Monday, June 25, 2007
Hank Medress, The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Hank Medress died today in Manhattan at the age of 68. For those of you who don't know, Hank was the owner of that amazing falsetto on The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
That song is so old, recorded in 1961, and we've heard it so often, that we tend to dismiss it the moment it shows up on our radio. But listen to it again now. Sure, the production's dated. (So am I.) But voices like that never really go out of style.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight was first popularized in the 50s by the Weavers, and I know it's sort of politically correct and nostalgic to wax poetic about the Weavers and their folky sound, but really, the version by The Tokens is it. No others need apply. No Lion King. No Three Dog Night even. No Beach Boys or whoever.
The song is based on a Zulu melody. Before the phrase "cultural appropriation" was invented. Elvis appropriated the Hound Dog. The Weavers went even further...all the way to Africa. Johnny Mathis brought ska to an admiring Murrican audience with Hold Me Tight. Did somebody mention Paul Simon?
Is/was it exploitation? My own view is that it's a symbiosis. Each learns and benefits from the other. As long as we're all approaching it with a degree of honesty and compassion...