The Tokens are well-known for one giant hit song that they put on the charts in late 1961, and the members of the group continued on in the music business in various capacities following the success of that hit.
The group was formed at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn in 1955 and known as the Linc-Tones. Original members were Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin and Cynthia Zolitin. In 1956 Jay Siegel was brought in to replace Rabkin and the group recorded its first song for the Melba label. In 1958 Zolitin and Sedaka left the group; Ian Kay took Sedaka's place briefly, and Sedaka went on to write and/or record numerous top ten songs throughout the 60's and 70's. Another group was formed called Darrell & the Oxfords in the late 50's, which eventually evolved into the Tokens in 1960. The lineup for the Tokens included Siegel and Medress and brothers Mitch and Phil Margo. The group recorded Tonight I Fell In Love on Warwick and it was successful, reaching number 15 on the charts early in 1961. They appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. But it was their next effort that became one of the most successful songs by any group in the 60's -- The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
The Lion Sleeps Tonight, also known as Wimoweh, is a Zulu song that had been sung by a tribe in South Africa. There are indications that the song originated with Solomon Linda, who wrote it as Mbube and had a hit with it on Gallotone Records in South Africa, in 1939. The Weavers recorded it as Wimoweh before the Tokens picked up on it and recorded their own spirited version of the song for RCA in 1961. Jay Siegel's dynamic lead vocal helped to make it a smash hit, and it held the number one spot on the charts for three weeks. Mitch Margo was only fourteen years old at the time, although the others were at least five years older.
Following the success of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens put nine more songs in the top 100 from 1962 to 1970, two of which made it to the top forty: I Hear Trumpets Blow on their own B. T. Puppy label and Portrait Of My Love on Warner. Portrait Of My Love had been a top ten hit for Steve Lawrence earlier in the decade.
They formed Bright Tunes Productions and produced the Chiffons, one of the best of the 60's girl groups, and other artists such as the Happenings and Tony Orlando & Dawn. Their efforts resulted in some top ten hits in the 60's such as One Fine Day, See You In September and I Got Rhythm. Another version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight was recorded by Robert John and the song once again reached the top ten, this time peaking at number three in 1972. Three members of the Tokens, Jay Siegel, Mitch Margo, and Phil Margo, renamed themselves Cross Country and had a minor hit with In The Midnight Hour in 1973; the record was produced on Atco.
The Tokens have reformed and toured at various times over the years, including a doo-wop revival show in which they performed at Radio City Music Hall in 1981. The Margo brothers are still actively recording and touring and they perform as the Tokens featuring Mitch and Phil Margo. Their group now includes Phil's son Noah on drums. This group has issued two CD's in the 90's and they were on the Grammy list for both: Oldies Are Now and Esta Noche El Leon Baila (Tonight, The Lion Dances); you can visit their web site at http://www.btpuppy.com. Jay Siegel also tours with a group known as the Tokens, and this group includes Jay's son Jared on keyboards. Jay's lead vocals are among the best of any rock-and-roll band of the 60's.
The Tokens will always be remembered for their huge hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight.
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