TRO/Folkways Offer to Pay All Future "Wimoweh" Royalties to the Family of Solomon Linda

A settlement with the New York music publishing house that controls “Wimoweh”, the first of two international hits spawned by Linda’s 1939 song “Mbube”, is currenty being concluded. TRO/Folkways has offered to pay all future Wimoweh royalties to Linda’s family, and to contribute to the costs of establishing a memorial to the Zulu composer.

TRO/Folkways’ involvement with the song dates back to around 1951 or thereabouts, when TRO founder Howie Richmond signed The Weavers, a folk group whose repertoire included a note-for-note adaptation of “Mbube”. Unable to wrap their tongues around the Zulu lyrics, the Weavers called the song “Wimoweh”, and it rose to number six on the US charts. Ten years later, "Wimoweh" became the basis of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a legendary pop song whose massive earnings are the subject of a separate battle pitting the Linda estate against Disney Enterprises and others.

TRO/Folkways was initially under the impression that “Mbube” was a traditional Zulu folk song, author unknown. All such songs fall into the public domain, and if they are recorded in a new form, composer royalties are payable only to the adaptors. At the outset, therefore, all royalties earned by "Wimoweh" flowed to The Weavers, although Linda received an ex-gratia payment of $1,000. In 1971, Folkways acknowledged that "Wimoweh" was indeed based on an original work by Solomon Linda. Since then, Linda’s family has received regular royalty payments amounting to 12.5 percent of "Wimoweh’s" overall earnings.

“Folkways have now proposed that a memorial to Solomon Linda be set up in South Africa, to which they are prepared to contribute financially. Moreover, Folkways is willing to pay all future composer royalties arising out of the exploitation of Wimoweh to the Linda heirs.

This could mean an additional R20 000 a year for the Linda´s three surviving daughters. “This is a drop in the ocean compared to the earnings of Lion Sleeps Tonight,” says attorney Hanro Friedrich, who represent Linda´s family, “but every bit helps. At the moment, my clients are struggling to pay rates and electricity bills and the council is threatening to attach the family home. For people in their position, the Folkways offer means a great deal”.

“Folkways has acted with magnanimity,” he continued. “We also owe thanks to The Weavers, and especially to Pete Seeger, who has always argued that Linda was the true composer of "Wimoweh" and deserved to be compensated as such."

The attitude of TRO/Folkways is in sharp contrast to that of Disney Enterprises and Abilene Music, owners of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", who have responded to the appeals of Linda´s family with strenuous legal counter-measures, mainly of a technical nature.

Earlier this year, Disney trade marks such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were attached pending resolution of Linda’s family’s claim for a fairer share of the earnings of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". The case charges that Disney has made unauthorised use of Linda’s music in Lion King and its various spin-offs. The second major defendant is David Gresham Music, which collects royalties in South Africa on behalf of George Weiss, Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore, the New York music industry composers who added English lyrics to "Wimoweh" in 1961, thus creating "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", a song that has reportedly earned upwards of R100 million for its copyright holders. Solomon Linda died a virtual pauper, and his daughters continue to live in poverty in Soweto.

Dr Owen Dean

SPOOR & FISHER

Date published: 2004/09/01
Author: Dr Owen Dean

Tags: solomon linda royalties folkways wimoweh