Mitch Margo, an Original Member of the Tokens, Dies at 70
By MAYA SALAMDEC. 1, 2017
Mitch Margo, second from left, with members of the Tokens. The others, from left, are Eddie Rabkin, Hank Medress, Phil Margo (seated) and Jay Siegel. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Mitch Margo, an original member of the Tokens, the singing group best known for their hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” died on Nov. 24 at his home in Studio City, Calif. He was 70.
His family announced his death in a statement but did not specify the cause.
Mr. Margo was only 13 in 1960 when he and his brother, Phil, joined the Linc-Tones, who soon renamed themselves the Tokens. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the group’s biggest hit, topped the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in 1961 and one week in 1962.
The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh)
The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight (Wimoweh) Video by thetknsVEVO
Mr. Margo played piano in those early years, and over the years established himself as a multi-instrumentalist, also playing guitar, bass, drums and percussion.
The group wrote a number of its songs — Mr. Margo, his brother and the Tokens’ Hank Medress collaborated on the group’s first hit, “Tonight I Fell in Love” — but not “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” That song was based on a 1939 recording, “Mbube” — Zulu for “The Lion” — by the South African musician Solomon Linda and his group the Original Evening Birds.
Pete Seeger recorded a version in the 1950s as “Wimowe,” which is how he sang the original lyric “mbube” (pronounced EEM-boo-beh). The American songwriter George David Weiss reworked it in 1961, adding the lyrics “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight.” That’s the version made famous by the Tokens.
“We’ve sung billions and billions of ‘wimowehs,’ ” the family statement quoted Mr. Margo as often saying.
The Tokens’ other hits in the 1960s included “I Hear Trumpets Blow,” “Portrait of My Love” and “He’s in Town.”
The group’s other original member was Jay Siegel. Other members came and went over the years.
The Tokens also produced records for the Chiffons, the Happenings, Randy and the Rainbows, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. It was Mr. Margo’s idea for the Happenings to do an up-tempo version of the Gershwin brothers’ “I Got Rhythm,” his nephew Noah Margo said. The record reached No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart in 1967.
Several songs Mr. Margo wrote or helped write were recorded by other artists, including “Laugh,” released by the Monkees in 1967, and “Slow Dance,” released by the Carpenters in 1989.
Mitchell Stuart Margo was born on May 25, 1947, in Brooklyn. He began singing a cappella at age 9 alongside his brother.
He left the music industry to serve in the Army from 1969 to 1972, in the Special Services division.
Mr. Margo also composed scores for television projects and was a painter. His art is featured in the children’s book “The Very First Adventure of Fulton T. Firefly.”
Mr. Margo’s marriage ended in divorce. His survivors include his sons, Damien and Ari; a brother, Phil; and a sister, Maxine, as well as nephews and a niece.