‘The Lion King’ remake stirs memories for Tacoma woman who sang key song in the original

Nala and Simba splash through idyllic streams of water as Kristle Murden’s clear and emotional voice creates the soundtrack to their classic love story.

The two-time Grammy nominated Gospel musician and the original singer of the 1994 version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” now lives in Tacoma, close to her son, his wife, and her two grandchildren.

On Thursday, Disney’s live action remake of “The Lion King” opened in theaters across the country. Century Point Ruston, Regal Lakewood, and many other Tacoma theaters will be showing the movie this weekend.

The classic songs fans have loved for decades are covered by new musicians. Beyonce sings the song that Murden soloed on more than 20 years ago.

Murden said she’s excited to see the new version when it comes out, especially what directors have changed.

“I think it’s great that they’re doing it again. I’m very curious to see the differences. And, yeah, I’ll probably be going today,” Murden said Friday.

‘I would sing in the crib’

Murden, 62, looks back fondly on her years of professional singing and her experiences working on “The Lion King.”

She’s recently published her autobiography, “It Took a Miracle and Then Some,” which she completed after moving to Tacoma for the second time in 2015.

She had previously moved to Tacoma in 1979, when she got a job working at a local church in the music department. She left in 1993 to work on “The Lion King” in Los Angeles.

The book details her life growing up in Washington, D.C. and as a travelling gospel singer.

“I feel like I want to start writing another one right now,” she laughed.

Murden feels she was born to be a musician.

“I was one of those little kids that was told I would sing in the crib,” she said with a smile. “When I became 10, my mother bought a big, black baby grand piano, and I started teaching myself how to play.”

Born in Newark, N.J., Murden’s family moved to Washington, D.C. when she was 3 years old. Murden received her first musical training at her local Baptist church, where she sang in the choir. The choir director recognized her talent and started pulling her out to be the lead.

“The leader found out I had a lead voice,” she said, “and started … letting me lead songs.”

Throughout middle and high school, Murden sang in school choirs and gospel choruses. Upon graduation, she realized she wanted to try to make it as a professional singer.

“I started feeling like I wanted to get a record deal,” Murden said.

A lucky encounter led to her signing on with Light Records, a gospel record company which had also signed Andrae Crouch, one of the top gospel musicians of the time. Murden met Crouch and sang a duet with him. After that, it was a whirlwind.

Murden’s first solo album, which she released when she was 22, “I Can’t Let Go,” received a Grammy nomination. About three years later, Murden did a solo song on one of Crouch’s albums, which was also nominated for a Grammy.

Murden worked with Crouch for over 30 years and said she visited more countries than she can count.

“I went on to sing with Mr. Crouch more and tour with him around the world because he was the top gospel Christian music artist at the time,” she said. “(I visited) Sweden, Norway, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Japan, the Bahamas, Saint Martin, France.”

In 1993, Murden moved to Los Angeles and started working on movie soundtracks. She stayed there for 12 years, working on around 14 movies. She worked on “The Preacher’s Wife” with Whitney Houston, and on “The Ladykillers” with Tom Hanks, she said.

She worked on albums for the stars Christina Aguilera and Barbara Streisand. One of her favorite memories was working on several of Michael Jackson’s albums.

“I, of course, met him in person because he was there for the recording sessions,” she said. “That was really cool.”

‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’

Murden said she wasn’t originally meant to solo on “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” but luck helped her out once again.

Murden said Crouch had asked her to be part of the gospel chorus that would be singing in the soundtrack.

When she arrived in Los Angeles in 1993, the soundtrack’s composer, Hans Zimmer, asked Crouch for one singer to come in early and learn the song, so they could teach it to the rest of the chorus. Crouch called Murden in.

“Originally they weren’t asking me to be the soloist on the project,” she said, “but the people at Disney liked my voice. Instead of taking it off, which is what they were going to do originally after the choir was arranged, they kept it on just as a solo.”

Murden spent three months working on the soundtrack for “The Lion King.” She said she loved the experience because of the sense of community she felt with the other singers, many of whom she had worked with before.

Murden also recounted some special moments from the production of the movie.

“Me and just about 10 of the singers (were taken) into a room to actually view the movie before it was even colored in,” she said. “Then they played the work that we did singing behind it, when it was just penciled in. That was cool.”