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June 22, 2007

Hank Medress, 68, Doo-Wop Singer on ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Dies

New York Times:

Hank Medress, a founding member of the 1960s doo-wop group the Tokens, whose biggest hit was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” died on Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 68. The cause was lung cancer, his family said.

The Tokens’ sole Top 10 hit was a big one, an update in street-corner harmony of a Zulu song from South Africa. The song had become a folk staple in the 1950s after a recording by the Weavers — with Solomon Linda’s original lyric, “mbube” (lion), misheard as “wimoweh” — but entered pop eternity in the Tokens’ chirruping 1961 version, which stayed at No. 1 for three weeks.

Mr. Medress formed the group in 1955 with friends at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, among them a young Neil Sedaka; its original name was the Linc-Tones. By 1960 Mr. Sedaka had a solo career, and the quartet was repopulated with Jay Siegel, who sang most of the leads, and the brothers Mitch and Phil Margo.

The group reached No. 15 in early 1961 with “Tonight I Fell in Love,” but besides “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” it had no other significant hits for years, reaching No. 30 in 1966 with “I Hear Trumpets Blow” and No. 36 the next year with “Portrait of My Love.”

But “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” was enough to propel Mr. Medress’s career. The Tokens were given an unusual production deal by Capitol Records, and one record the group produced — that Capitol passed on — was the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” a No. 1 hit for four weeks in 1963 on the Laurie label.

Two other Tokens-produced songs by the Chiffons, “One Fine Day” and “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” reached the Top 10, and the Tokens made two Top 10 hits with the Happenings, “See You in September” and “I Got Rhythm.” With Dave Appell, they also recorded “Candida,” “Knock Three Times” and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” with Tony Orlando & Dawn.

Mr. Medress sang backup harmony with the Tokens but took a primary role in their studio efforts, and he left the group in 1973 to concentrate on producing. Among those he recorded were Dan Hill, Melissa Manchester, Richard Simmons, Rick Springfield and David Johansen (as his alter ego, Buster Poindexter).

From 1990 to 1992 Mr. Medress was president of EMI Music Publishing Canada and after returning to New York became a partner in Bottom Line Records, which released recordings of performances at the Bottom Line club in Greenwich Village as well as new work by emerging artists. In recent years Mr. Medress had worked as a consultant for SoundExchange, an agency that collects royalties from digital broadcasters, like satellite and Internet radio.

Posted by acapnews at June 22, 2007 11:22 PM


me and my wife loved your show at the thosand oaks civic we were with my mother in law who actually got the tickets to see you guys,i was nervous we bought pictures which you autographed and a special autograph from your mom we loved her personality.hope to see all of you again.
sincerly your freinds always, rick,debbie @mae.

Posted by: rick george at February 11, 2008 11:52 AM

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