The Tokens’ Jay Siegel is 71 years old these days — a long cry from the 22-year-old who sang the piercing falsetto on the group’s chart-topping 1961 hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
But Siegel proudly notes that he hasn’t lost anything over the years.
“Fortunately for me I’m able to still sing the songs in the same key and hit the high notes — and I’m knocking on wood I’ll be able to keep doing it,” says Siegel, who joined the group in 1965 when it was still known as the Linc-Tones, co-founded by Neil Sedaka two years earlier at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.
Siegel, who’s fronted The Tokens since Sedaka’s departure in 1957, says there’s no great secret to his fountain of vocal youth, either. “The only explanation is I tried this job I have as my job,” he explains. “After work I go home. I try to live a normal life. I don’t hang out at the bars and clubs and party and all those things, and I don’t abuse my body.
“I guess the business keeps you young. I have a real young attitude. I don’t feel my chronological age; in my head I’m 21, and my voice is about 19 years old, so that’s good.”
The Tokens, whose lineup now includes John “Jay” Traynor from Jay & the Americans, did have several other charting hits — including “Tonight I Fell In Love,” “I Hear Trumpets Blow” and “Portrait of Love,” but it’s “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” that everyone remembers. And Siegel says there’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s a marvelous feeling,” says Siegel, who sang on Robert John’s hit 1972 remake of “The Lion” and has also produced songs such as Tony Orlando & Dawn’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine.” “The record came out at the end of 1961. It remained on the charts three months into 1962, was a No. 1 record in 36 countries. When ‘The Lion King’ movie came out, it became an international hit all over again. We now have audiences of 5-year-old kids who know the song.
That’s a wonderful thing. And if that’s what brings people out to see us, then we can sing our other songs for them and let them see what else we’ve got.”
Jay Siegel & The Tokens perform with Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, Jimmy Beaumont & the Skylyners, Eugne Pitt & the Jive Five and more in Doo Wop Yule Pop at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $23.50-75. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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