I’ve always like the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and particularly the original recording by The Tokens. It was one of my first MP3 purchases. Since I have Wikipedia on my iPod, sometimes I will look up a song and find out about it (most songs don’t have articles, but some big ones do, “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones is one). Anyway, Wikipedia has a great article about “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, tracing the roots back to a South African Zulu who recorded a song called “Mbube” in 1939 (“mbube” is the Zulu word for lion). It had some local success and found its way around to different people interested in exotic folk music. The American folk singer Pete Seeger, of The Weavers, got hold of a copy of Mbube on 78 and started playing it at shows. Seeger took some creative license in naming the song “Wimoweh” (spelling “mbube” phonetically, which is pronounced “em boo beh”) and making a big band version of it in 1951, though that was probably just for the recording since The Weavers were a folk group and wouldn’t usually have an orchestra. Then in 1961, RCA modified the song that Seeger had popularized by adding English lyrics. This became “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” performed by The Tokens. It became even more popular at that point. Then it was reintroduced as part of The Lion King in 1994. An article in Rolling Stone in 2000 traced the history of the song and then a documentary was made in 2004. This brought attention to some of the lapses in paying the Zulu guy who originally made the song (and had never made much money off of it since the record company kept all the royalties). Seeger said he thought it was a traditional folk song and therefore no royalties would be due.
Anyway, the neat thing about having all the history of a familiar song is that you can go on You Tube and hear the different versions: