John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

In Memory Of Kenny Baldwin

John Sieger pays tribute to Kenny Baldwin with the best version of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."

By - Sep 25th, 2015 03:51 pm
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Kenny Baldwin. Photo from Facebook.

Kenny Baldwin. Photo from Facebook.

It’s sad and hard, this little weekly hobby of mine seems to be morphing into the musician’s obituary special. So here we go again. Last week, Milwaukee music lost one of its best friends, Kenny Baldwin. After battling lung cancer for the last four years, he lost a lot of ground in recent weeks and finally succumbed last Thursday. Lung cancer’s not a nice way way to go, so a word to anyone young who thinks holding a cigarette is somehow hip. Don’t do it.

Kenny took over his dad’s disco, Starship Enterprises, rechristened it The Starship and ran live music there for a couple years. As an African/American and a schooled jazz drummer, he was an unlikely champion for punk rock, but stereotypes weren’t Kenny’s thing. I don’t know whether he made money booking national acts like X and Captain Beefheart, or supporting local start-ups like The Oil Tasters, Die Kreuzen and The Shivers, but he was a success, nonetheless. He was also in a bunch of bands, most notably, Colour Radio. They did one record for a subsidiary of A&M. He stayed in music, mostly on the production side after that, working with Peter Jest and stage managing at Summerfest. If you were in the Milwaukee music scene from the early ‘80s till now, you probably knew and loved him. His laugh was real, as was his smile. He was as genuine and warm a person as you’d care to meet.

He was often found on Sunday nights, helping the Noisemakers From Hell, an offshoot of The Violent Femmes that featured Victor DeLorenzo, Sigmund Snopek, the irascible Peter Balestrieri and my brother Mike Sieger, among others, cutting loose and pushing boundaries in a fun way.. I had the good fortune to host a weekly show with him and Mike — we called it The Salon De Musique, and we played, at Kenny’s request, the worst version of today’s song you could ever want to hear. In his honor I’d like to offer up the best version of this beautiful African Chestnut, called Mbube, which means lion, in this video.

Miriam Makeba, native of South Africa, was famously married to both jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Stokely Carmichael, an important leader of the Black Power movement in the sixties. But she was an international star before they came along and remained a highly regarded artist and civil rights activist till her death in 2008. Her strong anti-apartheid stance got her banned from her own country from many years. She sang at times in Xhosa, a language that included clicking sounds, and her voice was supple and unforgettable.

The song itself, also titled The Lion Sleeps Tonight, was a huge hit for The Tokens. It was also popularized by Pete Seeger. Written in 1920 by Solomon Linda, it was later recorded by his group, The Evening Birds. The lyrics, translated to English:

Ee-e-e-oh-mum-a-weh
Ee-e-e-oh-mum-a-weh

Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh

In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
In the jungle, the quiet jungle
The lion sleeps tonight

Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh

Near the village, the peaceful village
The lion sleeps tonight
Near the village, the quiet village
the lion sleeps tonight

Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight
Hush my darling, don’t fear my darling
The lion sleeps tonight

Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh
Wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh, wimoweh

Ee-e-e-oh-mum-a-weh
Ee-e-e-oh-mum-a-weh

© Solomon Linda

This song introduced many Americans to the beauty of African music. With it’s tender vocal interplay and insistent rhythmic invention, it’s a reminder of how many important aspects of American music crossed the ocean in slave ships. It’s also a bit of a lullabye, even for those outside of Milwaukee who aren’t worried about wildcats roaming the streets. I liked it when I was a kid and liked it even more because Kenny did.

Miriam Makeba led a meaningful and eventful life, leaving behind so many beautiful moments and so much to think about. I like to think that Kenny did, too, in fact I know he did. The tributes on his Facebook page tell the story of what he meant to so many in the in this community, and not just the musicians. I don’t want to get used to these mounting losses, especially the ones that came way too early — please people, toss those butts in the trash. And Kenny, wherever you are, this one’s for you.

3 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: In Memory Of Kenny Baldwin”

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    Thank you for this fine tribute to Kenny Baldwin. I attended both his funeral and the even for him at Shank Hall, and was amazed at the huge number of people who came out and spoke about their experiences with him. He brought together the Milwaukee music community like no one else did, and did not see people as black or white, but as individuals. We all love you, Kenny!

  2. susan says:

    Kenny Baldwin. An extremely talented musician, as well as a class act as a person. When I knew Kenny best he helped create a band called Colour Radio by contributing musical credibility as well as the maturity to keep the “boys” together. Over the years, every time I have visited Milwaukee his name has come up in one conversation or another. – he has been a force in that community. I salute you, Kenny. What a tribute to you that news of your passing is making its way around the country. Rest in peace. Susan

  3. jim says:

    I met Kenny one time backstage at his venue at Summerfest. He could not have been more kind.

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