For the singer Anita Darian, getting to Carnegie Hall not only took practice; it also took a kazoo.
Her versatile voice carried her there in 1960, where she sang and played kazoo with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein’s baton. But Ms. Darian reached far more listeners with her keening, uncredited background singing on the Tokens’ 1961 hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
She died on Feb. 1 at 87 in Oceanside, N.Y. Lynda Wells, a longtime friend and an executor of her estate, said the cause was complications after intestinal surgery.
Ms. Darian was a session singer and stage performer when she was asked by the producers Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore and the songwriter George David Weiss to provide backing vocals for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which Mr. Weiss had adapted from a South African song.
Ms. Darian’s high-pitched vocal — at one point soaring over the lines “In the jungle,/ the mighty jungle/ The lion sleeps tonight” — provided a memorable counterpoint to the lead vocal and the harmonized lower-register refrain “A-wimoweh-a-wimoweh.” The record spent three weeks atop the Billboard pop chart.
Ms. Darian also sang behind Mickey & Sylvia on their 1957 hit “Love Is Strange” and recorded with Burt Bacharach, Dinah Washington, Patti Page and others, usually without credit and often emulating the eerie sound of a theremin.
Her talents were more frequently acknowledged onstage. She made her Carnegie Hall debut performing Mark Bucci’s “Concerto for Kazoo and Orchestra” as part of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts program. (The concert was broadcast on CBS.)
A City Center regular, Ms. Darian performed Natalie in Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” and Pitti-Sing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” there in 1959, and played Julie in “Show Boat” in 1961. She also played Lady Thiang in several different City Center productions of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King and I.”
“As the King’s head wife, Anita Darian sings ‘Something Wonderful’ with a patience, belief and clarity that are wonderful in their own right,” the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson wrote in a review of a 1960 City Center production that starred Farley Granger and Barbara Cook.
She was born Anita Margaret Esgandarian in Detroit on April 26, 1927, to Anna and Garo Esgandarian, Armenian immigrants. She shortened her name when she went into show business. She graduated from Cooley High School in Detroit and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and later studied at the Juilliard School.
Ms. Darian lived in East Atlantic Beach on Long Island. Varham Fantazian, a cousin and co-executor of her estate, said that no immediate family members survive.