Birds Of A Feather : Part 1 - The Larks©1999JCMarion


Like most of the vocal groups of the early days of R & B, The Larks had their roots in gospel music. The Larks were created from members of the Selah-Jubilee Singers, the Southern Harmonaires, and The Jubilators. By mid 1950 The Larks had been formed with Thermon Ruth, Eugene Mumford, Allen Bunn,David McNeil, and Raymond Barnes. The group came to the attention of Bess Berman the head of Apollo Records, the New York independent label, which was always on the lookout for R & B talent. In late 1950 the larks first recorded effort was released on Apollo #1177 - "Coffee Cigarettes, and Tears" and the flip was a cover of a pop hit for Guy Mitchell, "My Heart Cries For You". Nothing much happened with that first effort, but the second record released in March showed the capabilities of the group. Both sides were written by Eugene Mumford - "When I Leave These Prison Walls" (written while behind bars for a crime that he did not commit and for which he received a full pardon from the North Carolina governor), and "Hopefully Yours". It was this recording that made many listeners aware of the talent and the style of the group.

In May of 1951, The Larks record of "Let's Say A Prayer" and "My Reverie" (originally announced mistakenly as "My Prayer" in Apollo ads) took hold with listeners and record buyers. The unique treatment of "My Reverie" in an almost a capella style, features an astonishing lead vocal by Mumford which is further highlighted by McNeil's approximation of a string bass accompaniment. The record was a solid seller from Boston to Washington D.C., and gave the song a second life recalling the 1938 version by the Larry Clinton Orchestra with vocal by Bea Wain which reached the number one position in the country. As was the custom in the early fifties, Apollo hurried the group back into the recording studio to try and quickly capitalize on the success with a rapid followup. In June Apollo, now using a new numbering system for their records, issued #427 by The Larks - "Eyesight To The Blind" / "I Ain't Fattening Frogs For Snakes". The Allen Bunn led "Eyesight" made the national R & B charts for the group, and this led to various TV appearances including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a huge hit show that was in fact a mainstream American version of Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater. The Larks won the competition on the show and showed their ability to a viewing nation.

"Eyesight" continues to sell and becomes a huge hit in the Midwest, especially in Chicago. In August the group releases Apollo #429 - "Little Side Car" and "Hey Little Girl". The up tempo side "Side Car", did well and sold in sufficient numbers to place it on the top ten R & B records in the country that fall. In support of this and previous records for Apollo, the Larks go on a tour of one nighters with Percy Mayfield and his band. The quick release strategy here hurt the group because the next outing was an exquisite ballad rendition of "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow" bw "It Feels So Good" on #430. The continued sales of "Side Car" rendered "Tomorrow" as an almost forgotten record which denied a great many listeners the chance at a superior vocal group tune. The proof is high esteem that today's vocal group fans give to this rendition.

In January of 1952, Allen Bunn records as a solo for Apollo with "The Guy With The 45" and "She'll Be Sorry" on #436. At about the same time the full group releases "How Long Must I Wait For You" and "My Lost Love" on #435. Right on the heels of that record came "Lucy Brown" / "Darlin' " on #437. Now to further add to the confusion of tracking label releases from Apollo, the label reverts back to the original numbering system of the 1100 series. The third Larks release in six weeks is #1189 - "Honey In The Rock" / "Shadrach" which is then hurriedly pulled and put on the shelf. In its place comes #1190 - "In My Lonely Room" and "Stolen Love" which now makes four releases by the group in less than eight weeks. The supposed 'A' side "Lonely Room" is another marvelous ballad by The Larks, but it is "Stolen Love" that is the better seller especially in New York and Philadelphia.

In the summer of 1954 a great two sided record is issued on Apollo #1194 - "I Live True To You" and "Hold Me". Both are beautiful tunes given a wondrous "reading" by lead singers Allen Bunn and Eugene Mumford. Both sides are revered by collectors to this day, with adherents arguing the collective merits for each side. Unfortunately, a superior recording such as this one spelled the end for the group as they felt that they suffered from a dearth of financial opportunities coupled with the grind of one nighters. Apollo Records re-released the pulled single - "Honey In The Rock" / "Shadrach" in 1953 to little success.

Then in an experiment by Bess Berman, Apollo Records reinvents The Larks, this time as a mainstream pop music group in February of 1954. The Larks would now compete against The Crewcuts, The Hilltoppers, The Ames Brothers, The Four Lads, etc. on this somewhat foreign ground. The reconstituted group consists of original Lark Eugene Mumford and Orville Brooks from the Golden Gaters, and David Bowers and Isaiah Bing from the King Odom Four. Berman plans to record them on the new Apollo pop music subsidiary label, Lloyd's Records. In March the new Larks have their first release for Lloyd's on #108 - The nineteen twenties tune "Margie" and "Rockin' In The Rocket". The group appears at the New York Festival of Music and Drama held at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Also featured are The Harptones, Phyllis Branch, Otis Blackwell, Carmen Taylor, The Four Tunes, and Hal Paige & his orchestra.

The Larks second single on Lloyd's again goes back, this time to the swing era and records a vocal version of Erskine Hawkins "Tippin' In" bw "If It's A Crime" on #110. In June #111 features "When You're Near" / "Who Walks In When I Walk Out". In July the group records "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" which was a huge pop hit for Les Paul & Mary Ford. The flip side is "No Other Girl". Lloyd's #114 - "Forget It" / "Os-Ca-Lu-Ski-O" and #115 - "Johnny Darling" / "You're Gonna Lose Your Gal" suffered the same fate as all six Lloyd's sides released in 1954, that of being failures in popularity, airplay, and sales. They are mostly forgotten today by all but the most die hard collectors. There was one last release by the group, this one on Apollo of two tunes that were previously unreleased and sitting on the shelf. Apollo #475 - "Honey From The Bee" / "No Mama No".

The Larks as a recording entity ceased to exist by early 1955. The legacy of their recordings lives on in the small but influential Apollo records from a one year period : mid 51 to mid 52. The influence lingered on as David McNeil joined The Dominos in 1952, Eugene Mumford joined the same group in the later 1950s and was responsible for two absolute monster hits in 1957-"Stardust" and "Deep Purple" that defined the art of singing lead, Raymond Barnes became a R & B session musician, and Thermon Ruth returned to his gospel music roots, and Allen Bunn first was a member of The Wheels (Premium Records hits in 1956) and then under the name Tarheel Slim, recorded as an R & B duo known as Tarheel Slim & Little Annie. The Larks can certainly be touted as one of the most important and influential groups ever, and it doesn't matter that their output was not large in number or that their longevity was not something to behold. The proof is in the grooves, and it is there that the testament of their worth comes shining through.

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