“To Reggie”

For nearly two decades now I have donned the ‘ol school tie and driven to Manhattan for a semi-annual board meeting of the American chapter of Friends of King’s College London, a 501(c) organization with a mandate to review grant applications for a variety of KCL related research.

Founded by King George IV and the Duke of Wellington in 1829, King’s holds claim to being the third-oldest university in England (after the very old indeed Oxford and Cambridge universities).  It would later become (along with University College) one of the two founding colleges of the University of London, its initial prospectus permitting “nonconformists of all sorts to enter the college freely.”  That certainly described yours truly who wandered in off the Strand one late-August day in 1981 with a vague notion of accomplishing some graduate work.

Decades (and an ocean) apart from completing that degree finds me on my way to a final board meeting (16 October), after serving five years as Friends of KCLA president.  As ever, in addition to working through our worthwhile agenda, I very much look forward to seeing old friends and to one final opportunity to raise my glass “in honour of Reggie,” the King’s College mascot, whose initial incarnation was a copper lion purchased for £7 from a junkyard off Tottenham Court Road in 1923.

“Your beginnings will seem humble,” says the psalm…“so prosperous will your future be.”

Of course, when toasting to a lion, there is but one song that comes to mind, and it too had humble beginnings.  “Mbube” (Zulu for “lion”) was written in the 1920s by Solomon Linda, a black South African of Zulu origin, who worked as a record packer for the Gallo Record Company in Johannesburg.  Linda regularly performed it with his choir, The Evening Birds, and when witnessed by a talent scout in 1939, a 78 recording was issued by Gallo and marketed to black South African listeners.

By 1948 more than 100,000 copies of the record had been sold throughout the continent, some of them brought to the UK by South African immigrants.  The song was so popular that a new style of African a cappella music (popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo) had even adopted the name “Mbube”. 

In time the record was brought to the attention of Pete Seeger and his hard-driving folk group, The Weavers, who recorded their own version, calling it “Wimoweh” (a mishearing of the song’s original chorus of “Uyimbube” which is Zulu for “You are a lion”).  “Wimoweh” hit the Billboard top ten in 1951 and was soon covered by a number of other folk groups.

Then, in 1961, lyricist George David Weiss was contracted to fashion a pop arrangement of the song for the Brooklyn teen doo-wop group, The Tokens. Weiss added additional lyrics to “In the jungle, the mighty jungle…” and brought in opera singer Anita Darian to hit the high notes.  The single topped the Billboard Charts and has been continually recorded ever since.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Tuesday 16 October

Wimoweh

 In the jungle, the mighty jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

In the jungle, the quiet jungle

The lion sleeps tonight

 Near the village, the peaceful village

The lion sleeps tonight

Near the village, the quiet village

The lion sleeps tonight

 Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling

The lion sleeps tonight

Hush My darling, don’t fear my darling

The lion sleeps tonight.

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