Solomon Linda’s estate heirs rewarded for ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

March 2006

Music publishing

The family of South African composer Solomon Linda has reached a settlement with Abilene Music in the lawsuit over his world-famous song The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Linda composed the song, originally called Mbube (or Lion, in Zulu) in 1939 in Johannesburg. It became a hit throughout South Africa. But Linda and his wife had sold the rights to his song to a local company that year and never properly benefited from the song’s popularity. Linda died in poverty in 1962 and his wife could not even afford a headstone for his grave. In a recent action lawyers for the Linda family had argued that according to copyright law in the British Commonwealth at the time (Imperial Copyright Act 1911) the rights to the song were to revert back to the composer’s heirs 25 years after his death – in 1987. In the 1950s Mbube was adapted and covered by American folk singer Pete Seeger and his group the Weavers. Seeger heard Mbube and transcribed its Zulu lyrics completely (but inaccurately) and the song becameWimoweh, a 1952 hit which subsequently sold four million copies in various recordings. It has been covered at least 150 times. The Tokens covered the song in the 1960s and writer George Davis Weiss added new lyrics and re-titled the trackThe Lion Sleeps Tonight. It was here that the copyright of Wimoweh was in effect separated from The Lion Sleeps Tonight (even though it was acknowledged it was based on the same melody) and copyright in the Lion SleepsTonightpassed through several hands, landing up in the ownership of Abilene Music of New Jersey, who licensed The Lion Sleeps Tonight to Disney for its film The Lion King – it is the only non-Elton John song in the movie. Meanwhile Linda’s widow Regina received just 3/24ths of the income from Wimoweh (she now receives 100% of the composer share). The Disney film was released in 1994 and was adapted into a massively successful Broadway musical in 1997. At one point lawyers acting for Linda’s estate secured an attachment to all Disney trademarks in South Africa. The settlement is believed to include back payment of royalties and future payment of royalties – an ‘equitable share’ of the earnings fromThe Lion Sleep Tonight.

For a very clear history of this case see

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