The Tokens, legendary folk and R&B group, shares an unexpected story about their famous hit

Philip Margo of the Tokens, who sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967, has died at age 79. Margo was a founding member of the New Jersey-based group The…

The Tokens, legendary folk and R&B group, shares an unexpected story about their famous hit

Philip Margo of the Tokens, who sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967, has died at age 79.

Margo was a founding member of the New Jersey-based group The Tokens.

Along with legendary singer Art Garfunkel, Margo and Garfunkel were key figures on the popular American folk scene, performing popular versions of songs written or co-written by others.

In their song The Lion Sleeps Tonight, The Tokens are describing what they feel is the loneliness and invisibility of the animal kingdom. The song wasn’t nominated for a Grammy or entered into a college honor song contest. In fact, it was only the fifth song The Tokens had ever recorded. But Sullivan’s show served as an unofficial launch pad for the Tokens.

After performing the song on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” the band managed to get a call from British composer John Barry saying he wanted to record it for another singer.

The Tokens provided Barry with a demo and the song was adapted for Rod Stewart’s very first release.

The pop stardom for The Tokens began when they were invited to perform on the show in 1965. Yet, Garfunkel and Margo had formed The Tokens as a songwriting team in the ’60s. They had written hits for other folk artists like Susan Tedeschi, and in 1966 had debuted their own act with a song entitled The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Only three years later, at a different location and at a different time, The Tokens released their first hit song, I, Joy, I, Without Love. Both songs were a huge success and broke the band’s silence at a time when nothing but folk singers were achieving fame and fortune. It was music by other composers that the “Godfather of Soul” James Brown made a huge hit in the ’70s, but The Tokens are also credited with doing so.

As for The Tokens’ new song, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Barry bought the sheet music because The Tokens were “acting up.”

Three days after the show in 1967, The Tokens went back to Greenwich Village to perform it in front of a packed house. That’s when it was said that the lyric to The Lion Sleeps Tonight was first uttered. The rest is history.

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