NEW YORK – Hank Medress, whose vocals with the doo wop group the Tokens helped propel their irrepressible single "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" to the top of the charts and who produced hits with other groups, has died of lung cancer. He was 68.
Medress died Monday at his Manhattan home, relatives said.
He was a teenager at Brooklyn's Lincoln High School when he launched his vocal quartet in 1955 with Neil Sedaka, performing as the Linc-Tones. When Sedaka departed for a successful solo career, lead singer Jay Siegel joined brothers Mitch and Phil Margo and Medress to become the Tokens.
It wasn't until 1961 that the group scored its singular smash, its hypnotic "Wimowehs" derived from a traditional Zulu melody. The Weavers had made the song a folk staple in the '50s, but the Tokens brought their version to No. 1 on the pop charts.
The band had other minor Top 40 hits, including "I Hear the Trumpets Blow" in 1966 and "Portrait of My Love" in 1967 — but never recaptured the success of its enduring single.
Medress would return to the charts, though, when the Tokens landed a production deal. The all-girl vocal group the Chiffons benefited from his studio touch with the classic '60s singles "He's So Fine" and "One Fine Day."
After splitting with the Tokens in the 1970s, Medress worked with a record company executive named Tony Orlando, persuading him to handle vocals on "Knock Three Times" — a move that catapulted the song into pop history. Medress and production partner Dave Appell also produced the Orlando and Dawn hit "Candida."
In the 1980s, Medress helped former New York Dolls lead singer David Johansen reinvent himself as lounge lizard hipster Buster Poindexter, producing his debut album and the single "Hot, Hot, Hot."
From 1990-92, he served as president of EMI Music Publishing Canada. More recently, he worked as a consultant to Sound Exchange, a nonprofit group helping musicians collect royalties.
He was survived by four children and two grandchildren.