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Mitch Margo, a founding member of The Tokens, the doo-wop foursome behind the mega-hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” has died. He was 70.
Margo died peacefully from natural causes on Friday at his home in Studio City, his nephew, Noah Margo, announced.
Margo was 13 and a first tenor when he and his older brother, Phil Margo, a baritone, hooked up with Jay Siegel and Hank Medress, two of their friends from Brooklyn, to form The Tokens in 1960. (Neil Sedaka had earlier performed with Medress in a group known as The Linc-Tones.)
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” The Tokens’ adaptation of South African singer Solomon Linda’s “Mbube” and The Weavers’ “Wimoweh” for RCA Victor, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in December 1961 and remained there for three weeks.
The Tokens’ other hits in the 1960s included “Tonight I Fell in Love,” “I Hear Trumpets Blow,” “Portrait of My Love” and “He’s in Town,” but clearly, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was their most famous tune.
“We’ve sung billions and billions of Wimowehs,” Margo often said. (The indelible falsetto on the song was performed by Siegel.)
The Tokens also had their own publishing company, Bright Tunes Publishing; produced hit records for The Chiffons, The Happenings, Randy & the Rainbows and Tony Orlando & Dawn; and wrote the song “Laugh” for The Monkees.
In 1973, the Margo brothers and Siegel formed the group Cross Country and released an album.
Margo played several instruments and composed music for a 1988 NBC telefilm, Goddess of Love, starring Vanna White as Venus. And he was an accomplished painter whose work is on display in the children’s book The Very First Adventure of Fulton T. Firefly.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1969-72 in the Special Services division.
His brother survives him, as do his sons Damien and Ari and sister Maxine.
“Mitch was an adjective-defying human being whose contribution to both The Tokens and music in general is unparalleled,” his nephew said. “His words and melodies are equal to any of the giants in the industry. Perhaps now, like so many of civilization’s greatest artists, he will get the due he deserves. His humor, wit and slanted observations will be deeply missed.”
A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.
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