Philip Margo of Tokens, who sang of a sleeping lion, dies at 79

Philip Margo, a member of the close-harmony group The Tokens, who gained lasting fame in pop music with the No. 1 hit “The Lion Sleeps T...


Philip Margo, a member of the close-harmony group The Tokens, who gained lasting fame in pop music with the No. 1 hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in 1961, died in a Los Angeles hospital on Saturday. He was 79 years old.

The cause was a stroke, his family said.

Mr. Margo has had a varied career, playing with Tokens and its offshoots, producing records and writing for television. But nothing had more impact than the recording he took part in when he was 19: “The lion sleeps tonight”Has become one of the most recognizable songs in American music, immediately identifiable from Jay Siegel’s opening falsetto. Mr. Margo sang baritone.

The song has its origins in South Africa, where Solomon Linda and the Original Evening Birds recorded a simple tune they called “Mbube” – Zulu for “the lion” – containing the now familiar melody. In the early 1950s, American folk group The Weavers, whose members included Pete Seeger, began performing it, but returned the title word “wim-o-weh”. The Kingston Trio and others took over this version.

In 1961, the Tokens were looking for a sequel to their first record, “Tonight I fell in love” and Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, producers at RCA Records, called on lyricist George Weiss, who added the English lyrics that begin with “In the jungle, the mighty jungle”.

Philip Margo and some of the other band members didn’t have much faith in the resulting recording.

“We were embarrassed by this and tried to convince Hugo and Luigi not to publish it,” he 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 he was going to come out.”

They were right. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in December 1961, stayed there for three weeks, and became a cultural touchstone. A whole new generation was introduced to him in 1994 when a version appeared in the Disney movie “The Lion King”.

“Now that it’s up to date, we are up to date,” Mr. Margo said at the time. “I am delighted.”

Philip Frederick Margo was born on April 1, 1942 in Brooklyn to Leon and Ruth (Becker) Margo. He grew up in the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn. In 1959 he returned there from a summer job playing the piano in the Catskills and, with his younger brother, began to try doo-wop harmonization with Mr. Siegel and Hank Medress, seeing what they could. to do with songs like “A Teenager in Love”, a hit at the time for Dion and the Belmonts.

“We sounded so good that we started writing songs ourselves,” Mr. Margo told Spokane, Washington spokesperson in 1992. One song they came up with was “Tonight I Fell in Love” , which they recorded and brought to the small Warwick label, whose owner, Marty Kraft, said he needed a name.

“We wanted to call ourselves these guys, but it was unheard of in 1960,” Mr. Margo said in the Billboard book interview. “It had to be ‘The Somethings’.”

So they took the name of an earlier group that Mr. Medress had been in, becoming the Tokens.

Tokens have released a number of other singles over the years, including “I Hear Trumpets Blow” (1966) and a series of albums. Collectively, the group has also produced records for others, including Chiffons and Happenings.

Mr. Margo continued to perform with his brother, who died in 2017, and with Mr. Medress, who died in 2007. He settled in Beverly Hills and was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan. During the 1998 baseball season, his version of Tokens (Mr. Siegel a his own) performed the national anthem in all stages of the major leagues and would have been the first pop group to accomplish this feat.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Margo wrote and produced television dramas and wrote episodes of shows including the sitcom “Benson”. He also directed the career of this show’s star Robert Guillaume for a time.

Mr. Margo is survived by his wife, Abbie S. Margo, whom he married in 1966; two sons, Noah Margo and Joshua Ginsberg-Margo; one daughter, Neely S. Irwin; one sister, Maxine Margo Rubin; and eight grandchildren.

The Margo brothers appeared on “CBS This Morning” in 1994, promoting a recently released album called “Oldies Are Now”. Paula Zahn, one of the show’s hosts, asked them about “The lion sleeps tonight,” including a question, “How many ways can you butcher a-wim-o-weh? – that they didn’t need to be pushed to answer.

“Wingle-whop, wingle-whetta, wing-away,” Phil said.

“Wing-o-wack,” Mitch said.

“Wing-o-wack,” agreed Phil.

To which Mitch added: “And then some that we can’t repeat.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Philip Margo of Tokens, who sang of a sleeping lion, dies at 79
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