Written and originally recorded (as “Mbube”) by Solomon Linda’s Original Evening Birds (1939).
Hit versions by The Weavers (US #6 1951), The Tokens (US #1 1961), Tight Fit (UK #1 1982).
From the wiki: “‘Mbube’ (Zulu: lion) was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu origin, who worked for the Gallo Record Company as a cleaner and record packer, and who performed with a choir, The Evening Birds.
“Linda’s improvised melody was wordless; no English words occur in the recording. Issued by Gallo as a 78 recording in 1939 and marketed to African audiences, ‘Mbube’ became a hit and Linda a star throughout South Africa.
“In 1949, Alan Lomax, then working as folk music director for Decca Records, brought Solomon Linda’s 78 recording to the attention of his friend Pete Seeger of the folk group The Weavers. In November 1951, after having performed the song for at least a year in their concerts, The Weavers recorded an adapted version with brass and string orchestra and chorus as a 78 single entitled ‘Wimoweh’, a mishearing of the original song’s chorus of ‘Uyimbube’.
“In 1961, two RCA producers, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, engaged Juilliard-trained musician and lyricist George David Weiss to fashion an arrangement for a planned new pop music cover of ‘Wimoweh’, intended as the B-side of a 45-rpm single called ‘Tina’ by the teenage doo-wop group The Tokens.
“The Tokens, who loved The Weavers’ version of the song and had used it to audition for Hugo and Luigi at RCA, were appalled and were initially reluctant to sing the new arrangement. But ultimately, they allowed themselves to be persuaded. Issued by RCA in 1961, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ rocketed to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.”
The Weavers with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra, “Wimoweh” (1951):
The Tokens, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (1961):
Tight Fit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (1982):