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George David Weiss, who wrote 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight,' dies at 89

George David Weiss
George David Weiss (Courtesy Of Sam Teicher Collection/songwriters Hall Of Fame - Courtesy Of Sam Teicher Collection/songwriters Hall Of Fame)
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The origin of his greatest success, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," was mired in controversy. The tune was originally composed in 1939 by Solomon Linda, who lived in a shanty in Soweto, a suburb of Johannesburg.

But in 1952, Linda sold the copyrights to a recording of his song -- which he called "Mbube," Zulu for lion -- to a studio for 10 shillings, less than $1.

The song eventually captured the attention of Pete Seeger, who wrote out a rough transcription of the song's main lyrics, "uyimbube, uyimbube," as "wimoweh, wimoweh," and performed it with the Weavers.

Today, more than 150 variations of Linda's original song exist, and it has been featured in more than a dozen movies, including Disney's "The Lion King" (1994).

The song generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue, but when Linda died in 1962 at age 53, he was so poor his widow could not afford a headstone for his grave.

In 2004, Linda's family filed a suit against Abilene Music Inc., the publishing company that owned copyrights to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Two years later, Abilene agreed to pay the family the song's royalties retroactively from 1987 onward.

"This song has never died," Mr. Weiss once said of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." "I never thought of it as a song but rather a series of gimmicks thrown together. It just shows you -- you can't second-guess the public."

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