The Tokens are an American male doo-wop-style vocal group and record production company group from Brooklyn, New York. They are known best for their chart-topping 1961 single, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight".
The group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn's Abraham Lincoln High School, and was known first as The Linc-Tones. Originally featuring members Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolotin, Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel in 1956, and the band recorded its first single, "While I Dream" that same year. In 1957 Sedaka and Zolotin left the band, leaving only Siegel and Medress, who would recruit two additional band members and record the single "Picture in My Wallet" as Darrell & the Oxfords. Finally establishing its most famous name and crew, the band became known as the Tokens in 1960 after they recruited the 13-year-old multi-instrumentalist and first tenor Mitch Margo and his baritone brother Phil Margo.
In early 1961, the Tokens released a single for Warwick Records titled "Tonight I Fell In Love," which scored No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and earned the group an opportunity to perform on the television program American Bandstand. The popularity that the band garnered as a result of this performance brought it new recording opportunities, culminating in its cover of Solomon Linda's "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" for RCA Victor Records. It reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it remained for three weeks. The same track peaked at No. 11 in the UK Singles Chart. Both "Tonight I Fell in Love" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" sold more than 1 million copies, and were awarded gold discs.
From 1962 to 1970, the group released nine more songs that scored the Top 100. Jay Siegel was the lead vocalist on all the Tokens' hits including "I Hear Trumpets Blow" (1966) and "Portrait of My Love" (1967). Beginning in 1963, The Tokens also began serving as record producers for other artists, such as the Chiffons, Randy & the Rainbows and the Happenings. Their production company was called Bright Tunes and they also created their own record company, B.T. (Bright Tunes) Puppy Records. In 1972, Jay Siegel did background vocals for a re-recording of Lion Sleeps Tonight with Robert John as the lead vocalist. This version hit #3 on the charts, and was awarded a Gold disc.
In 1970, Hank Medress began producing an act for Bell Records, Dawn, which featured the former teen-idol Tony Orlando. It was as a favor to Medress that Orlando sang the lead on the first record, "Candida", which became a Top 3 hit.
In 1973, Medress ended his relationship with the group and Siegel teamed with the Margo Brothers to form the group Cross Country, which would have some success with its cover version of "In the Midnight Hour." The Tokens reunited during 1975 for occasional weeks as singing regulars on the Adam Wade hosted game show Musical Chairs and in 1978 recorded a song for ABC's Schoolhouse Rock named "A Victim of Gravity".
Brothers Mitch and Philip Margo continue to perform with new members Jay Leslie, Mike Johnson and Noah Margo (one of Margo's sons) playing drums. Mitch Margo's sons, Damien Margo and Ari Margo, also make occasional guest performances with the band, exemplifying Phil Margo's saying that "If you hang around long enough you can grow your own band."
Siegel continues to perform with his own version of The Tokens as well, featuring bass singer Bill Reid and, more recently, John "Jay" Traynor, the original lead singer (before Jay Black) of Jay & the Americans and the Mystics. Siegel's son is also part of the group as keyboardist and occasional vocalist. (John "Jay" Traynor died January 2, 2014, of liver cancer at a hospital in Tampa, Florida.)
Jay Siegel's Tokens and the Margo brothers reunited in 2000 to perform on the PBS special, Doo Wop 51. At the time, Siegel's Tokens were Siegel, Reid and Eddy Rezzonico; Rezzonico had replaced Richie Grasso during the 1990s.
Mitch Margo died on November 24, 2017, aged 70.
Decades after not receiving any publishing credit for their specific original musical composition part of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", the band began a lawsuit in order to regain some of these publishing rights. The case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. To this day, the Tokens claim that some of the original musical composition of the 1961 song was created by them, even though they have not been awarded this status by their record company.
On October 19, 2009, Phil and Mitch Margo filed suit in Manhattan for the rights to the Tokens name. They claim in their filing that Henry Medress suggested the name. In a competing suit filed in California by Siegel, he claims Siegel, Medress and Sedaka released an album named Neil Sedaka and the Tokens previously. On Sedaka's own website, there is a listing in his discography catalog for a 1958 release of Neil Sedaka and the Tokens as well as a second album, also during 1958, named Neil Sedaka and the Tokens and Coins.
As well as being performing and recording artists The Tokens were also record producers. Here are some of the records they produced:
"He's So Fine" by the Chiffons
"One Fine Day" by The Chiffons
"Denise" by Randy & the Rainbows
"See You In September" by the Happenings
"I Got Rhythm" by the Happenings
"Go Away Little Girl" by the Happenings
"Candida" by Tony Orlando and Dawn
"Knock Three Times" by Tony Orlando and Dawn
"Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" by Tony Orlando and Dawn
Awards and recognition
The Tokens were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004.
In 1998, The Tokens were mentioned by the Guinness World Records, for performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums in the United States and Canada.
Jay Siegel – Lead singer
Joe Venneri – Guitar
Jay Siegel's Tokens
Jay Siegel (original lead vocalist)
Kurt “Frenchy” Yahjian (replaced Jay Traynor after his passing January 2, 2014)
The Margo Brothers' Tokens
Mitch Margo – Lead Vocals, Guitar (died November 2017)
Phil Margo – Vocals, Percussion
Jay Leslie – Vocals, Horns
Mike Johnson – Vocals, Keyboard
Noah Margo – Drums
Ari Margo – Guest Performer, Vocals
Damien Margo – Guest Performer, Vocals, Drums
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