The Lion Sleeps Tonight: From Wimoweh to The Lion King

When it comes to classic songs that have stood the test of time, The Lion Sleeps Tonight is definitely one that comes to mind. This iconic tune has been covered and reinterpreted countless times, from folk and pop music to movies and TV shows. But what is the history of this beloved song? Let’s dive in and explore the story of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, from its origins in South Africa to its enduring popularity today.

What Does Wimoweh Mean in English?

Let’s start at the beginning. The origins of The Lion Sleeps Tonight can be traced back to a traditional South African song called Mbube, which means lion in Zulu. This song was originally recorded in 1939 by South African singer Solomon Linda and his band, The Evening Birds. The song was a hit in South Africa and eventually caught the attention of American producers who were looking for something new and exotic to bring to American audiences.

Who Originally Sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight?

In 1952, American folk group The Weavers recorded a version of Mbube with new English lyrics, calling it Wimoweh. The song became a hit in America and introduced the mysterious and rhythmic sounds of South African music to a wider audience.

Who Sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight in the 70s?

The song continued to be popular throughout the 50s and 60s, inspiring many cover versions and earning royalties for Solomon Linda. But it was in the 70s that the song really took off, thanks to the version by American doo-wop group The Tokens. Their version, titled The Lion Sleeps Tonight, became an international hit and is perhaps the most well-known version of the song today.

Was The Lion Sleeps Tonight Made for The Lion King?

While The Lion Sleeps Tonight was not originally written for the 1994 Disney movie The Lion King, it has become forever associated with the film due to its use in the opening sequence. The song’s lyrics (In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight) perfectly capture the film’s setting and themes, and are a beloved part of the movie’s soundtrack.

The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight Live

For those who are curious about how the song sounds live, The Tokens performed The Lion Sleeps Tonight live at the New York Supper Club in 2009.

What is the Documentary about The Lion Sleeps Tonight?

In 2000, a documentary was released about the history and controversy surrounding The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Titled The Lion’s Trail, the film explores the song’s South African roots, the legal battles over its ownership and royalties, and the impact it has had on popular culture. The documentary is a fascinating look at the song’s legacy and is worth a watch for anyone interested in music history.

How Many Versions of The Lion Sleeps Tonight Are There?

At this point, it’s difficult to say exactly how many versions of The Lion Sleeps Tonight exist. The song has been covered by countless artists around the world, in many different languages and musical styles. Some notable covers include versions by The Beach Boys, R.E.M., and even Sesame Street’s Ernie. Each version brings a unique interpretation to the song, while still capturing the essence of its catchy melody and rhythm.


The Lion Sleeps Tonight may have started as a simple traditional song, but it has become so much more over the years. Its infectious melody and timeless lyrics have made it a beloved part of music history, and its use in popular culture will ensure that it remains a staple for generations to come. Whether you first heard the song in The Lion King or grew up singing it with your family, there’s no denying the enduring appeal of The Lion Sleeps Tonight.