The Original Larks : 1951-52 ©JCMarion 1999
The Larks were a recording vocal group for only two years, but their influence has lasted much longer than the output they produced in those two years. The genesis of the Larks emerges as does so many of the R & B groups of the 40s and the 50s from the roots of gospel music. A North Carolina based gospel group called the Selah Jubilee Singers was the basis for the Larks. Members Thurman Ruth and Allen Bunn left the Singers to move into the secular music world, and formed a new group with Raymond Barnes and David McNeil. A fifth member Eugene Mumford, was also a gospel singer and joined the group as lead singer after he was released from prison with a pardon because his alibi proved he was an innocent man. Bess Berman who ran the successful independent label Apollo, planned for them to record early in 1951. She named the group The Larks, in keeping with the familiar pattern of the "bird" groups in the wake of the popularity of the Orioles.
The first release for the label was the straight pop ballad "My Heart Cries For You" which had been a big hit for popster Guy Mitchell. The flip was an R & B jump tune called "Coffee, Cigarettes, and Tears". There was little interest in the initial offering, and two months later they scored with a two sided hit of tunes written by Mumford - "Hopefully Yours" and "When I Leave These Prison Walls". In late May of 1951, The Larks recorded an all time classic for Apollo "My Reverie" and the flip side was "Let's Say A Prayer". In its original version, "Reverie" had been a swing era standard which had become a huge hit record for the band of Larry Clinton with vocal by Bea Wain. The Larks with the incredible lead of Gene Mumford and the echo harmonies of the group over the bass of McNeil, gave their treatment of the tune an ethereal quality almost unmatched in the annals of the vocal group sound. Jay Warner in his entertaining book "American Singing Groups" (Billboard Books), makes a very astute observation, comparing this recording to the Flamingos "Golden Teardrops" as the high point of recorded R & B harmony. The exquisite sound of the recording has made it an all time favorite and is always mentioned as one of the top records in this style ever made. This performance made the Larks a major R & B performance act in 1951.
A bit of a different sound for the Larks was evident on their next release. "Eyesight To The Blind" and "Ain't Fattening Frogs For Snakes" were uptempo blues numbers with Allen Bunn doing the lead singing. The next release for Apollo featured a jump blues titled "Little Sidecar" and was paired with "Hey Little Girl" and was advertised by Apollo records as being by Bobby Smith and The Larks ! (Smith was the leader of the backup combo for Apollo sessions). The group went out on the road in support of the record by touring the Midwest with Percy Mayfield. They also spread their style and increased the popularity of the group by a number of television appearances such as "Spotlight On Harlem" and "The Chesterfield Show". Following up "Sidecar", the Larks produced another all time classic.The ballad "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow" showcased the unique sound of the group and was one of the most influential recordings of the early fifties. The flip side of this Apollo outing was "It Feels So Good" a jump blues with Allen Bunn on lead.
The Larks began the year of 1952 with a new release "My Lost Love" and "How Long Must I Wait". In addition Allen Bunn began to record as a single R & B artist. His first outing for Apollo released in mid January was "The Guy With The 45" and "She'll Be Sorry". The two subsequent releases by the group for Apollo did not do much in regards to either sales or radio play. They were "Darlin'" and "Lucy Brown" and "Shadrack" / "Honey In The Rock". In early March the third Apollo recording of the year was out and it was another ballad winner for the guys - "In My Lonely Room". The flip was "Stolen Love" which originally was being promoted as the "A" side.
In the late summer of the year The Larks issued their final recording for the Apollo label, and they certainly went out with a winner. Two super ballads with the great lead of Gene Mumford once again - "I Live True To You" and "Hold Me". With the prospect of struggling record sales and the realization that endless touring was the only way that the group was ever able to generate any income, the quintet decided to disband in late 1952. The members of the group all went on their separate ways, and in a surprise development (or maybe not), all found success after the end of The Larks. Thurman Ruth returned to his gospel roots , Raymond Barnes became a session guitarist, David McNeil went on to become a member of the world famous Dominos, Allen Bunn formed a new group in the mid 1950s called The Wheels who had a huge hit called "My Heart's Desire" on the Premium label, and then became part of the successful R & B duo Tarheel Slim and Little Annie. Gene Mumford went on to the greatest success of all when he joined the latter 50s version of the Dominos and sang lead on two monster hits in 1957, "Stardust" and "Deep Purple".
The Larks, like so many vocal groups of the R & B era, began their history in the field of gospel music. From there they went on to become one of the premier "bird" groups of the time. A later version of the group (1954-55) made some creditable recordings for the Lloyds label, but it was the original quintet and the great Apollo sides from 1951-52 that will live in the hearts of vocal group fans forever. Despite their rather short history as recording artists, the original Larks have left us with "My Reverie" and "I Don't believe In Tomorrow" as a testament to their timeless quality and precision harmony. The Larks "My Reverie" was a perfect choice to be featured on the landmark CD compilation set "DooWop Box" for Rhino which will preserve that memorable recorded performance for future generations.
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