The Lion Sleeps Tonight by The Tokens George David Weiss of The Tokens, the group that brought The Lion Sleeps Tonight to worldwide fame, died yesterday.
I always thought that The Tokens had written the song. Turns out I was wrong. The tune was written by a Solomon Linda, who lived outside of Johannesburg. He sold the rights to his song to a movie for less than $1. That tune went on to make millions, but the songwriter died in squalor. He was so destitute at the time of his death in 1962 that his wife couldn’t afford a headstone. Meanwhile the song was raking in millions of dollars for the copyright holder.
Mr. Linda’s estate sued the copyright holder in 2000, and the copyright holder agreed to pay royalties on the song retroactive to 1987. There was really no reason for the copyright holder to agree to share the wealth with the songwriter’s estate. The copyright had been sold in 1952, before the song came into its own. The purchase and sale transferred the rights to the song to the purchaser. It was really very decent of the studio to agree to share the wealth. It was, in fact, the right thing to do.