Lebo M Biography: Early Life | Career | The Lion King | Personal Life | Marriages
Lebo M is a South African producer and composer who is best known for his songwriting and vocal work on the soundtracks to films such as The Lion King, The Power of One and Outbreak and numerous stage productions. He has been called “the voice and spirit of The Lion King” by the film’s director, Roger Allers.
Lebo M was born Lebohang Morake on 11 July 1964 in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa. He grew up during the apartheid era and faced many hardships and challenges as a black child. He had no formal training in music, but he developed a passion for singing and performing from a young age. He left school at the age of nine to perform music in nightclubs. He recorded his first single, Celebration, when he was 13 years old, receiving only R375 for recording the record.
In 1979, he left South Africa by bus for Maseru, Lesotho, where he heard that a new club was going to be opening. He was in exile due to the apartheid system. In Maseru, he worked as a singer in the Victoria Hotel, where he caught the attention of Lesotho’s Ambassador to the United States, Tim Thahane. Thahane helped him apply to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C., and coordinated with the TransAfrica organisation to send him to the United States.
He arrived in New York in 1982, where he struggled to make ends meet, working odd jobs and performing in restaurants and bars. Black churches supported him to attend music school. He moved to Los Angeles in 1986 to pursue a music career.
Lebo M Career Breakthrough
Lebo M’s career breakthrough came in 1987 when he was asked to help find a choir for the Oscars so that they could perform music from Cry Freedom, a film about South Africa that was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including one for Best Original Song. He made further strides in his music career when he ran into his childhood friend Solly Letwaba, who was the bassist for Johnny Clegg. Letwaba introduced him to Clegg’s producer, Hilton Rosenthal, who employed him as an intern and gofer for his production studio.
Rosenthal was the music supervisor on the film The Power of One, and through him, Lebo M met the film’s composer, Hans Zimmer. Lebo M ended up co-writing and co-producing the music for The Power of One with Zimmer, helping to arrange the choruses. Zimmer was impressed by Lebo M’s talent and knowledge of African rhythms and recommended him to Disney for their upcoming animated film, The Lion King.
Lebo M On The Lion King
Lebo M formed and conducted the African choir that sang for The Lion King and also provided his own vocals for the opening song, Circle of Life. His voice became iconic as the first thing that audiences heard when they watched the film. He also co-wrote and co-produced several songs for the film’s soundtrack with Zimmer, Elton John and Tim Rice.
The Lion King became a huge success, winning two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight) and four Grammy Awards for Best Musical Album for Children, Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocals (Circle of Life), Best Male Pop Vocal Performance (Elton John) and Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or Television (Can You Feel the Love Tonight).
Lebo M continued to work with Zimmer on other films, such as Congo (1995), Outbreak (1995), Tears of the Sun (2003) and Madagascar (2005). He also composed music for other films, such as Born to be Wild (1995), Dinosaur (2000) and Back on the Block (2009). He also collaborated with other artists, such as Quincy Jones, Tina Turner, Diana Ross and Miriam Makeba.
Lebo M also worked on stage productions based on The Lion King. He was involved in creating the musical adaptation of The Lion King for Broadway in 1997, which won six Tony Awards including Best Musical. He also produced and directed several international productions of The Lion King in countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Australia and South Africa. He also created his own musical show called Lebo M: Rhythm of the Pride Lands in 2019 at Disneyland Paris.
Lebo M also founded his own record label, Till Dawn Entertainment, and released several albums, such as The Lion King: Rhythm of the Pride Lands (1995), The Lion King: Return to Pride Rock (1998), Lebo M: The Lion Sleeps Tonight (2000) and Lebo M: Celebrate Africa (2010).
Lebo M has also been involved in various philanthropic and social causes, such as supporting the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation and the Lebo M Foundation. He has also received several honours and awards for his work, such as the South African Music Award for Best Soundtrack Album (The Lion King), the South African Film and Television Award for Best Music Composition (The Lion King), the South African of the Year Award for Arts and Culture (2015) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Arts Festival of South Africa (2016).
Lebo M Marriages
Lebo M has been married four times and divorced three times. His first wife was Vivica Gibson, whom he married in Los Angeles. His second wife was Nandi Ndlovu, whom he married in 1992 in South Africa. They had four children together but divorced in 2007. His third wife was Angela Ngani-Casara, whom he married twice, first in 2008 and then again in 2016, after a brief separation. They had two children together but divorced in 2017. He then dated and engaged Mel Ntsala in 2019, but they broke up in 2020. His fourth wife is Pretty Samuels, whom he married in 2020.
The couple’s relationship has been featured on Lebo M’s reality show, Lebo M: Coming Home, which aired on Showmax in 2020. The show gave viewers a glimpse into their personal and professional lives as well as their blended family of eight children from previous marriages.
However, in August 2023, Lebo M announced that he was in the process of getting a divorce from her, citing “salacious allegations and innuendos” about his personal and business life. He also claimed that she refused to delete the electronic signature that he gave her when he was on a European tour. Lebo M also suspected that she might have taken out life insurance policies in his name without his consent. He said he asked her to sign an affidavit confirming no such policies, but she refused. However, the couple reportedly reunited after a family intervention.