Mitch Margo, who rode 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' to the top of the charts, dies at 70

Steve Marble, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight," however, continued to live on and was recorded by a diverse cast of groups and musicians, from Brian Eno to REM. In all, 150 different artists recorded the song.

But when it was used in the film "The Lion King," its DNA became a legal issue.

The song was originally written and recorded as "Mbube" by Solomon Linda, a laborer in Soweto, the Johannesburg township. When the Weavers recorded the song -- renaming it "Wimoweh" -- it was either unknown or overlooked that Linda had written the song. It wasn't until Pete Seeger, then a member of the folk group, stepped forward and sent his stake of the earnings to Linda that the song's origins became broadly known.

The Tokens, who made dramatic musical changes to the song, gave Linda credit but later fought to claim some share of the song's publishing rights. The group's lawsuit was ultimately dismissed due to a statute of limitations ruling.

After the song went on to earn an estimated $15 million with the release of Disney's movie, and a subsequent stage version, Linda's heirs sued both Disney and the music firm that licensed the song to Disney. The case was eventually settled by Linda's heirs for an estimated $1.6 million. Linda, though, had long before died, impoverished.

Margo, who served in the Army from 1969 to 1972, never abandoned his fondness for music and artistic expression, his nephew said. As an artist, he created artwork for both an animation short and the children's book "The Very First Adventure of Fulton T. Firefly." He also composed music for several television projects.


He is survived by two sons, Damien and Ari; his brother Phil; and a sister, Maxine.

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