‘The Tokens’ Singer Philip Margo, Renowned for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight,’ Dead at 79

by Keeli Parkey

Philip Margo, the singer who helped make the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” famous has died. The song was very popular during the 1960s, then it returned to popularity as part of the soundtrack of Disney’s “The Lion King.”

According to The Sun, Margo was 79 years old at the time of his death. His family has reported that he passed away on Saturday, Nov. 13. His cause of death was a stroke.

Philip Margo was born in Brooklyn. He spent much of his singing career as part of the group The Tokens. They were a popular doo-wop-style vocal group. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was a major hit for the group. The song also climbed all the way to the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.

Interestingly, Margo and his fellow members of The Tokens did not think that “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” would be a popular song. In fact, Margo and the others weren’t fans of the song.

“We were embarrassed by it and tried to convince Hugo (Peretti) and Luigi (Creatore]) not to release it,” he also said in an interview quoted in “The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits” by Fred Bronson. “They said it would be a big record, and it was going out.”

Philip Margo Grew to Love ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

One element that helped make the song a success were the English lyrics that were added by lyricist George Weiss. It was Weiss who added the famous lyrics, “In the jungle, the mighty jungle.”

Also, in total “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” stayed at the top spot on the Billboard chart for three weeks. Since that time – and thanks to “The Lion King” – the song has become part of pop culture.

The song’s return to success after the release of the popular animated film also excited Philip Margo. “Now that it’s current, we’re current. I am thrilled,” Margo also said after the film’s release in 1994.

According to The New York Times, the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” had its roots in South Africa. It was there that Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds created the song, “Mbube.” That word is Zulu for “the lion.”

This song included the famous melody of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

It was during the 1950s that the Weavers, an American folk group, started singing the song. However, they sang the title word as “wim-o-weh.” The group included famous folk artist Pete Seeger.

After it was performed by the Weavers, other groups in America started performing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” the way that group did. One of these groups was The Kingston Trio.

Philip Margo’s birthdate was April 1, 1942. His parents were Leon and Ruth (Becker) Margo.