The long and tragic story of Linda was first revealed in
2000 by South African writer Rian Malan in a 3 part story in Rolling Stone. Malan's research suggested that the
song to date has probably earned about $15 million in
royalties. A few Americans made fortunes from the song originally
conceived by the Zulu tribesman, who died penniless. Linda sold
his rights for 10 shillings and a job in the packing plant of
the record company owner.
The Rolling Stone article memorably described the song's
The third take almost collapsed at the outset as the
unrehearsed musicians dithered and fished for the key, but once
they started cooking, the song was glory bound. "Mbube" wasn't
the most remarkable tune, but there was something terribly
compelling about the underlying chant, a dense meshing of low
male voices above which Solomon yodelled and howled for two
exhilarating minutes, occasionally making it up as he went
along. The third take was the great one, but it achieved
immortality only in its dying seconds, when Solly took a deep
breath, opened his mouth and improvised the melody that the
world now associates with these words:
"In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight."
In the more than 65 years since then, the song has gone
through several transformations, but it always contained the
heart of Linda's original. Songwriting credits have been claimed
by non-existent names, and by producers who had no hand in the
for large image of the original record. Photo from
3rd Ear Music).
Linda's original was a big hit in South Africa, and in the early 50's, Pete Seeger discovered it, mis-heard the
lyrics, and transcribed the chorus as "Wimoweh". His version
with the Weavers started as a hit, but was derailed in the Red
Scare. (He and the Weavers had been denounced as Communists in
the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings).
Others continued to record Wimoweh. In the early 60's, a
re-worked version with new lyrics was recorded as the "B" side of a single by
the Brooklyn group, The Tokens. A few radio stations flipped the
single, and the rest is history. Walt Disney Productions eventually took the
new song to Broadway, and really big money began to roll in.
Occasionally, a few efforts were made to acknowledge and
original writer. Some seemed legitimate (e.g., by Seeger);
others may have been made to divert legal attention.
It wasn't until February of 2006, that a settlement was
reached with Linda's heirs.
- The Rolling Stone
(in three parts) that first revealed the story
- A more concise version of the story
- This blog
has full mp3 versions of Linda's original, "Wimoweh"
by Pete Seeger and the Weavers, and by Yma Sumac (a
Peruvian-Hollywood singer), and the huge
- A YouTube video of a much older Tokens group reliving
their moment of glory