The Larks were an extraordinary group: beloved by collectors today
and revered by their peers at the time. The only ones who didn't seem to
idolize them were the record-buying public. Just two of their songs
("Eyesight To The Blind" and "Little Side Car") ever
made the national R&B charts, and then only for a week each. And
yet, the influence they had on up-and-coming groups is incalculable.
The history of the Larks begins with Thermon Ruth, who had formed the Selah Jubilee Singers in Brooklyn around 1927, By the 1940s, they were operating out of Raleigh, North Carolina and were composed of Thermon Ruth, Alden "Allen" Bunn, Junius Parker, Melvin Colden (who had been in the Norfolk Jazz Quartet and Norfolk Jubilee Quartet, starting in 1937, and whose name is often misspelled as "Coldten"), and Jimmy Gorham. The Selahs had a daily program of jubilee music that aired over WPTF in Raleigh.
The Selahs released a couple of secular records, as the "Cleartones". The first was the marvelous "Cielito Lindo", backed with "Am I Asking Too Much" (Signature 15242 - January 1949) and the other was "You Sure Look Good To Me"/"Ol' Black Joe" (Cross 201 - 1949). Sometime after this, Thermon Ruth and Allen Bunn left with the intention of forming their own gospel group. This was probably in the summer of 1949.
Allen Bunn came from Wilson, North Carolina, where there was a gospel group that had a Sunday morning radio show. Thermon could hear the show in Raleigh, and he asked Allen to go around to the studio and try to recruit them.
This quintet consisted of bass David McNeil, baritone Hadie Rowe, Jr., tenor Raymond "Pee Wee" Barnes, lead Freddy Rowe (Hadie's brother), and guitarist James Finch. (Unfortunately, Barnes had forgotten the name of the group.) After some negotiations, Raymond, David, and Hadie agreed to join with Thermon and Allen. They called themselves the "Jubilators" (oh, if it were only that simple!).
Now they were five, but there was to be one more. Back in early 1945, Thermon had heard Eugene Mumford singing with the 4 Intermes, and, after meeting him, was determined to get him as a tenor lead for the Selahs. However, that goal became impossible to achieve due to some bizarre circumstances.
In July 1945, Mumford had been arrested and jailed by the army Military Police. It was innocent enough at the start: the MPs were rousting people looking for marijuana. They turned him over to civilian authorities, whom he satisfied of his innocence. But just as he was leaving police headquarters, a white woman pointed at him and said "He's the one!" Subsequently re-arrested, he was charged with attempted rape, housebreaking, and assault. The case took a year to come to trial (during which time he was free on bail; he was mentioned as being part of a North Carolina tour, with blues singer Virginia Reid, that was due to start on June 1, 1946) and, in spite of an alibi, he was found guilty, a conviction that was upheld in the subsequent appeal. Sent to prison, Mumford spent two and a half years on a prison work gang maintaining the roads in North Carolina. But Gene's father never lost faith and never stopped working on his behalf along with the State Bureau of Investigation. Finally, enough evidence came to light that he was granted a full pardon from the governor of North Carolina. (This was treated as a miracle; a black man in the 1940s South being pardoned after having been accused by a white woman.) In June 1949, after having served 29 months in jail, Gene Mumford was a free man.
[Note that Gene had a brother, Ira Mumford, who sang bass with the International Clavichords in Camden, New Jersey. They recorded as the Rivals, on Apollo, in 1950.]
This happy occurrence coincided with the formation of the Jubilators. When Thermon heard that Gene had been released, he wasted no time in recruiting him for the group. (It's not that Gene could have been forgotten over the years. Each day, as Thermon was heading to the radio station, he passed Gene on the work gang.) The Jubilators thus consisted of Gene Mumford (tenor), Raymond "Pee Wee" Barnes (tenor), Alden "Allen" Bunn (baritone), Hadie Rowe (baritone), Thermon Ruth (baritone), and David McNeil (bass).
Thermon hired two teachers to get them into shape according to his standards, and for a few months they were taught how to sing together and to have stage presence. The Jubilators then competed against other gospel and jubilee groups in the state, even winning a 50 pound cake in a contest with the Selah Jubilee Singers!
Finally, the Jubilators decided it was time to get on record. So all six of them piled into Bunn's car and drove up to New York. They stayed with some of Ruth's relatives on 143rd Street in Harlem and for about a week they rehearsed constantly. Then, when they were ready, they set out for what was possibly the most amazing day of recording in history: October 5, 1950.
First, they went to Jerry Blaine's Jubilee Records (at 315 West 47th Street in Manhattan). There, they recorded four gospel songs, all released later in the month: "Why Not Today" (led by Hadie Rowe and Allen Bunn), "Down Here I've Done My Best" (Thermon Ruth), "Sorrow Valley" (Allen Bunn and David McNeil) and "Since Mother's Been Gone" (Hadie Rowe; note that the song was mistitled "Since Mother's Done Gone" on the label). (The religious songs that the group recorded that day were a mixture of gospel and jubilee; I'm not an expert, so I'll just refer to all of them as "gospel.")
So far, nothing unusual. However, the Jubilators were broke, and Thermon had been around long enough to know that they'd never see any royalties, only up-front payments for the session. So they told Jubilee that they were the "Selah Singers," got their money and headed across the Hudson River into New Jersey.
Their first stop in New Jersey was the Braun brothers' Regal Records at 20 East Elizabeth Avenue, in Linden. This time they used the name "Jubilators," and recorded another four songs: "Mother Called My Name" and "Get On The Road To Glory" (both led by Allen Bunn), "Seek And Ye Shall Find" (led by Gene Mumford), and "I've Got Heaven On My Mind" (fronted by Hadie Rowe).
Then they drove up to Newark and knocked on the door of Savoy Records (at 58 Market Street). There, they cut another four masters, this time secular tunes: "Easy Dying Blues" (led by Allen), "Got To Go Back Again" (a Korean War lament - "I just got home and I've got to go back again" - led by David McNeil), "Lonely Heart" (Gene), and "Lemon Squeezer" ("The way I squeeze your lemons is a low-down dirty shame" - not exactly a song for gospel audiences; also led by David). To further disguise their plans, the sextet called themselves the "4 Barons" on this session.
Finally, they drove back to Manhattan, to the offices of Apollo Records at 457 West 45th Street. Calling themselves the "Southern Harmonaires" this time, they were taken back to the same Mastertone Recording Studios that the "Selah Singers" had used that very morning. They laid down five gospel tracks: "Honey In The Rock" (led by Hadie), "Crucifixion" (Gene), "I'm So Glad" (Gene), "Who Will Your Captain Be" (Gene), and "Shadrack" (Allen).
And then disaster struck! Someone at the studio remembered them from the Jubilee Records session that morning and spilled the beans to Apollo owner Bess Berman. Bess decided she wanted them badly enough to make a deal with the other companies. When the dust had settled, Apollo had the contract, but Jubilee, Regal, and Savoy/Regent got to issue the masters that had been recorded under the "Selah Singers," the "Jubilators," and the "4 Barons." (Incidentally, they not only changed the group's name with every session, but they also invented different names for themselves each time they signed on the dotted line.)
In one day: seventeen masters, for four companies, under four different group names, and twenty-four personal names. That has to be some sort of record.
Now they had a real recording contract. But it wasn't quite the end of the beginning of the story. Bess Berman didn't want a gospel group; she wanted a pop or R&B group. So the Jubilators faded into history (at least for several years), and the "5 Larks" emerged (even though there were still six of them). Thermon Ruth deliberately selected the name to fit in with the Ravens and Orioles, as a "bird group."
As far as the other recordings they made on October 5, all of the Jubilee sides (as the Selah Singers) were released that same month. Regal issued the Jubilators' "Mother Called My Name" and "Seek And Ye Shall Find" in November 1950; "Get On The Road To Glory" and "I've Got Heaven On My Mind" in March 1951. Savoy released "Got To Go Back Again" and "Lemon Squeezer" by the "4 Barons," on their Regent subsidiary in November 1950.
"Lemon Squeezer"/"Got To Go Back Again" were reviewed the week of December 2, along with the Johnny Otis Orchestra's "Rockin' Blues," the Shadows' "Jitterbug Special," the Orioles' "Oh Holy Night," the Drifters' "And I Shook," and Bull Moose Jackson's "Big Fat Mamas Are Back In Style Again."
Sometime in December 1950, they had their first Larks session for Apollo. During the month of November, they'd made the decision to move up to New York, so they were putting everything they had into this. The session produced two masters, both led by Gene: "Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears" and a cover of "My Heart Cries For You" (a hit for Guy Mitchell, Dinah Shore, and Vic Damone; but not the Larks). Released that same month, neither side even hinted at the greatness inherent in the group; actually, both sides are rather boring.
On January 18, 1951, all that was to change. The sextet returned to the studios to cut a couple of classics. With Gene on the lead once again, they laid down "It's Breaking My Heart" (a pretty ballad that Apollo chose never to issue), "When I Leave These Prison Walls," and "Hopefully Yours." The latter two songs had been written by Gene when he was in jail and show a certain hope for the future. "I'm gonna ball/When I leave these prison walls" and "Hopefully yours/That's who I long to be/Darling when I am free/To be hopefully yours."
You want a mystery? OK, I'll give you one. The masters of "When I Leave These Prison Walls" and "Hopefully Yours" were entered on the books of Jubilee Records on November 30, 1950 (two and a half months before they were seemingly waxed for Apollo). They were entered as by the Jubilators, with the same master numbers that were eventually used by Apollo (AP3373 and AP3374). Also entered under that date were "Your Family Prayer" and "In My Heart," but these had Jubilee master numbers (JR8008 and JR8009). I have no idea what to make of this (other than that recording companies don't care at all about researchers), but it does fit in with the recollections of both Thermon Ruth and Allen Bunn that "Hopefully Yours" was recorded before "My Heart Cries For You." (However, neither Thermon nor Raymond remembered "Your Family Prayer" or "In My Heart.")
As was the custom, the record company presented past fact as future accomplishment. Apollo announced the signing of the 6-man "Southern Harmonaires from North Carolina" in early January. Apollo claimed that they'd be doing religious, Pop, and blues songs. Strangely, there was no mention of the Larks. Later that month, Apollo issued the Southern Harmonaires' "I'm So Glad"/"Who Will Your Captain Be" (songs that had been recorded on that frantic day back in October 1950).
The Larks were then booked on their first tour, probably in February. They drove down to Washington, D.C., when they lost Hadie Rowe to the army. (He'd gotten his draft notice and now couldn't continue on with the group. This is probably the reason that the "5" was dropped from the group's name by the time "Hopefully Yours" was released-even though they now actually had five members.)
On February 14, 1951, they got national exposure by singing "Lucy Brown" on the Perry Como TV show (the Chesterfield Supper Club). This was a song that had been recorded in 1938 by the Norfolk Jazz Quartet (as "Suntan Baby Brown"). Thermon had learned it from Melvin Coldten (of the Selah Jubilee Singers), who had also been in the Norfolk Jazz Quartet. While Thermon would sing lead on the recorded version, it's Gene out in front on the Como show. (Strangely, Allen Bunn plays the guitar, but rarely opens his mouth to sing.)
Sometime in March 1951, the Larks recorded "Let's Say A Prayer" (led by Gene) and "My Reverie" (Gene). Not long after, on March 27, the quintet waxed seven more tunes: first came "I Ain't Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes" (Allen and David), "Darlin'" (Gene), "What's The Matter" (Allen), "Ooh...It Feels So Good" (David), "Lucy Brown" (Thermon), and "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow" (Allen and Gene; this song was given to them by bandleader Lucky Millinder.) After graciously allowing June Gardner to record a couple of masters, the Larks came back to do "Eyesight To The Blind" (a down-home blues led by Allen Bunn, who also plays a mean gut-bucket guitar).
The classic from this session is, of course "My Reverie." It had been written by bandleader Larry Clinton back in 1938 (based on Rêverie by Claude Debussy), and was the song that propelled him (and vocalist Bea Wain) to stardom. Gene didn't follow the original lyrics too closely, however. They should be:
Our love is a dream, but in my reverie,
I can see that this love was meant for me.
Only a poor fool never schooled in the whirlpool
Of romance could be so cruel as you are to me.
My dreams are as worthless as tin to me
Without you, life will never begin to be.
So love me as I love you in my reverie
Make my dream a reality
Let's dispense with formality
Come to me in my reverie.
Their next TV appearance was on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts
show, where Gene Mumford led them to victory with their version of Patti
Page's "Tennessee Waltz," a song that was still riding the
charts. Their win entitled them to appear on Godfrey's morning variety
show the next week.
"Hopefully Yours," backed with "When I Leave These Prison Walls," was released in April, but doesn't seem to have been reviewed. However, "Hopefully Yours" was subsequently listed as a territorial tip in New York the week of May 5.
In May, Apollo issued "My Reverie" and "Let's Say A Prayer." The record was reviewed the week of May 19, 1951, along with Roy Brown's "Wrong Woman Blues," the Cardinals' "Shouldn't I Know," Joe Turner's "Chains Of Love," and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra's version of "My Reverie" (which got a higher rating than the Larks).
The Larks appeared at the Apollo the week of June 8, 1951, along with Cab Calloway and Moms Mabley.
In June, Apollo issued "Eyesight To The Blind"/"I Ain't Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes." The record was reviewed the week of June 30, 1951, along with the 4 Buddies' "My Summer's Gone" and Herb Lance's "At Last." If you were a record distributor, the tip for the week in Pittsburgh was the Majors' "You Ran Away With My Heart." The week of July 21 found "Eyesight To The Blind" to be a tip in Chicago. It was only on the national R&B charts for a single week, but it held down the #5 position.
The Larks' next session was on July 26, 1951. Only two songs were recorded this time: "Hey Little Girl" and "Little Side Car" (fronted by Allen). "Little Side Car" was a reworking of a wonderful double-entendre tune ("I'm in love with you baby/Let me ride in your automobile") that seems to have originally been done by Smokey Hogg (as "Too Many Drivers") for Modern in 1947. Other versions were by Rosetta Howard & Big Three Trio ("Too Many Drivers") on Columbia in 1948, Willie Love and His 3 Aces ("Little Car Blues") on Trumpet in 1951, Lowell Fulson ("Let Me Ride Your Little Automobile") on Swing Time in 1953, and Smiley Lewis ("Too Many Drivers") on Imperial in 1954.
August saw the release of "Little Side Car"/"Hey Little Girl." Both sides got excellent reviews the week of September 8, 1951. Other records reviewed that week were the Johnny Otis Orchestra's "Harlem Nocturne," the Orioles' "I'm Just A Fool In Love," Sonny Til's "My Prayer," Little Sylvia's "How Long Must I Be Blue," and Moose Jackson's "Cherokee Boogie." "Little Side Car" became the Larks' second chart hit, climbing to #10. However, it too only lasted a mere week, and these were the only two chart hits the Larks would have!
But Apollo, smelling sales blood, wasted no time in issuing another record in September: the beautiful "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow" (which proved Allen Bunn could sing as sweet a ballad as Gene Mumford), backed with David McNeil's rocker "Ooh...It Feels So Good."
Thermon Ruth told Todd Baptista: "We didn't work day jobs. It was a little rough. Bess [Berman of Apollo Records] would give a loan to us once in a while. I'd tell her Gene was going to quit or something, and she'd give us a little money."
On October 18, the Larks went back into the studio and recorded four more tunes: "How Long Must I Wait For You" (led by David), "My Lost Love" (Gene sings "I've placed ads in the Lost and Found/Still, nobody's seen my lost love around), "Christmas To New Years" (Allen), and "All I Want For Christmas" (Gene). For some reason, the two Christmas songs, which were never released, never received master numbers either. However, Apollo seems to be one of those companies that assigned master numbers on some basis other than actual recording order, so they aren't completely helpful anyway.
November 11 found the Larks in Cincinnati, about to kick off a Midwest tour, along with Percy Mayfield.
In December 1951, Apollo released "My Lost Love"/"How Long Must I Wait For You." These were reviewed the week of January 26, 1952, along with the Johnny Otis Orchestra's "Oopy Doo," the Ray-O-Vacs' "She's A Real Lovin' Baby," and the Jive Bombers' "Brown Boy."
In January 1952, Apollo issued two more sides from the October 1950 "Southern Harmonaires" session: "Shadrack" and "Honey In The Rock." This time, however, they were credited to the Larks.
The last regular Larks session took place on February 18, 1952, when they waxed four ballads, all led by Gene Mumford. This has been rightfully placed in the running for the finest single session by an R&B group. The tunes recorded were: "Stolen Love," "Hold Me," "I Live True To You," and "In My Lonely Room." "Hold Me" had been written by Jack Little, Dave Oppenheim and Ira Schuster in 1933; that year it was a hit for both Eddy Duchin and Ted Fio Rito.
On December 12, 1951, Allen Bunn, although still with the group, recorded several solos for Apollo: "She'll Be Sorry," "The Guy With A '45'," "Discouraged," "I Got You Covered," and "You're A Little Too Slow." The first two were released in February 1952. "The Guy With A '45'" got excellent reviews the week of March 22, 1952. Other records reviewed that week were Roscoe Gordon's "No More Doggin'," Wini Brown & Her Boyfriends' "Be Anything - Be Mine," and Calvin Boze's "Hey Lawdy, Miss Claudie."
Also in February, Apollo issued "Stolen Love" and "In My Lonely Room." As beautiful as these songs were, the public wasn't buying. The record was reviewed the week of March 15, 1952, along with Joe Turner's "Sweet Sixteen," Ruth Brown's "5-10-15 Hours," the Clovers' "One Mint Julep," the Dominoes' "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano," Buddy Johnson's "Root Man Blues" (with vocal by Geezil Minerve), Moose Jackson's "Nosey Joe," and the Heartbreakers' "You're So Necessary To Me." For all the good it did, "Stolen Love" was a tip in New York the week of April 19.
Apollo's next release, in April, was "Darlin'" and "Lucy Brown" (one of my personal favorites), the song that they'd sung on the Perry Como show a year before.
The Larks final Apollo session took place sometime in May 1952. This time they were used to back up gospel singer Mahalia Jackson on four songs: "In The Upper Room, Part 1," "In The Upper Room, Part 2," "He Said He Would," and "He's My Light." Both parts of "In The Upper Room" were released in June, but the Larks received no label credit.
After this session, the disintegration began. Allen Bunn left to concentrate on his solo career and Raymond Barnes just left. By July, Gene Mumford was singing with the Golden Gate Quartet. However, since the Larks had some contractual appearances to fulfill, Gene came back, bringing baritone Orville Brooks, of the Golden Gate Quartet to replace Bunn and Barnes. Therefore, for a few appearances, the Larks were Gene Mumford, Orville Brooks, Thermon Ruth, and David McNeil. Once those obligations had been satisfied, David McNeil left to join the Dominoes, and the first Larks group was history.
The next Allen Bunn solo release, "Discouraged" and "I Got You Covered," were released in June, but don't seem to have been reviewed.
The final Larks record came out in July 1952: "Hold Me"/"I Live True To You." The 5 Keys version of "Hold Me" was also released in July. The Larks record was reviewed the week of July 26, along with Jesse Belvin's "Baby Don't Go," the Red Caps' "I Went To Your Wedding," the 4 Jacks' "Last Of The Good Rockin' Men," and the Freddie Mitchell Orchestra's "Delicado."
There was another Allen Bunn session held on August 20, 1952. This produced "Wine," "My Flight," "Baby I'm Gonna Throw You Out," and "Two Time Loser." "Two Time Loser" and "My Flight" were issued in September. The record was reviewed the week of October 11, 1952, along with Willie Mae Thornton's "Mischievous Boogie," Little Esther's "Mainliner," Paul Bascomb's "Mumbles Blues," Ray Charles' "I Can't Do No More," and Annie Laurie's "You Belong To Me."
This was almost the end of the line for the Larks. Around October 1952, Apollo released Mahalia Jackson's "He Said He Would" (the flip was a solo). Sometime in 1953, "He's My Light" was issued (coupled with a Mahalia Jackson solo). The Larks weren't given credit on either of these sides. June of 1953 saw the final Allen Bunn solos: "Baby I'm Gonna Throw You Out," backed with "Wine."
There was one more record to go (although by this time the group was ancient history): in March 1958, Apollo released "Honey In The Rock" and "I'm So Glad" by the "Southern Harmonaires," two of the songs recorded by the group back in October 1950.
The Larks, who had such a beautiful sound, got very little out of their singing career. With virtually no hits, appearances dried up and they had trouble finding work (a major problem when the main source of your income comes from appearances). Even when they got to perform, the money was never enough to support a full-time career. Their managers didn't help much either; the first one was Lou Fromme, followed by Beverly Green.
This is what subsequently happened to the Larks:
- Thermon Ruth relocated back to North Carolina by the late autumn of 1952, eventually becoming a famed gospel DJ and MC (as "T. Ruth").
- David McNeil joined the Dominoes, replacing Bill Brown (he would later be a member of Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots for many years).
- Gene Mumford initially joined the Golden Gate Quartet (whose other members were Orville Brooks, Clyde Riddick, Orlandus Wilson, and Glenn Burgess), then formed the second Larks group (see below). After that, he recorded the old standard "When You're Smiling" for Old Town's Whiz subsidiary with a group called the Serenaders. Finally, he ended up with the Dominoes on Liberty. After leaving them in mid-1958, he had some solo releases on Columbia and Liberty (1958-1960) before re-joining the Golden Gate Quartet for a couple of years. After that, he worked with several Ink Spots groups. Unfortunately, Gene was a drinker and that, along with diabetes finally killed him. Thermon Ruth told Todd Baptista: "If Gene Mumford had lived a good life and was living today, he'd be one of the greatest. Drinking liquor killed him." On the other hand, Isaiah Bing told Todd: "He drank around us, but he always did his work. Strange as it may sound, he did better work when he had a drink. Maybe he was less inhibited."
- Allen Bunn continued on with his solo career, later calling himself "Tarheel Slim." (In the later 50s and into the 60s he recorded with his wife, Anna Sanford, as both "The Lovers" and as "Tarheel Slim and Little Ann.") He was also involved with the Wheels/Federals. Note: In November 1953, Red Robin released an Allen Bunn solo called "My Kinda Woman" (which sounds much like "Eyesight To The Blind"). While Bunn himself later said that the uncredited group backing him up was the Larks, Thermon Ruth said it wasn't; nor, per David Bowers (see below), was it the second Larks group. The best we can do here is possibly a "Larks" group that Gene Mumford might have put together for some appearances. (How's that for hedging?)
- Raymond Barnes switched careers in 1957 to become a free-lance jazz and rock 'n' roll guitarist. He became sick of the dynamics of a group, no longer wanting to depend on others to show up for rehearsals and performances.
Of the original Larks group, Gene Mumford died (age 51) on May 29, 1977, followed shortly thereafter (August 21, 1977) by Alden "Allen" Bunn (age 52). Hadie Rowe died on September 19, 1998 at age 70. Thurmon Ruth passed away on September 13, 2002, at the grand old age of 88. David McNeil (age 72) died on January 8, 2005. As of 2008, Raymond Barnes is the only one out of both Larks groups still alive.
In 1953, after less than a year singing with the Golden Gate Quartet, tenor Gene Mumford decided to return to secular music. To this end he recruited fellow Gates Orville Brooks (a baritone who had also been with the Jubalaires and with the original Larks for some appearances at the end of their career) and pianist Glenn Burgess (who had been with the King Odom Quartet before joining the Gates) and set about looking for some other singers. Burgess recommended bass David "Boots" Bowers and tenor Isaiah Bing, both of whom had been members of the King Odom Quartet.
These five (including Burgess) took the name of Mumford's old unit, calling themselves the Larks. They then returned to Apollo Records, home of the original Larks. Bill Bing (Isaiah's brother, who had also been a member of the King Odom Quartet) was grabbed up by the Gates as a replacement for Orville Brooks.
By the time of the Larks' first session, the 4 Tunes' "Marie" was a big pop hit and Apollo owner Bess Berman, feeling that this was the wave of the future, wanted her new group to develop in this vein rather than R&B. This explains the totally different sound between the two sets of Larks. At this time the Dominoes were also using a pop sound. This was an attempt to "legitimize" black groups and have them accepted by mainstream white pop audiences.
The new Larks' first session was held on January 25, 1954. They recorded four sides: "Margie" (led by Orville and Gene), "If It's A Crime" (led by Gene and David), "Tippin' In" (Orville and Gene), and "Rockin' In The Rocket Room" (Gene and David). Once again, a record company waited until after the fact to announce a group's signing: in February, Bess let it be known that the Larks were back, and that Alan Freed had called them "One of the best groups in years."
The first record by the new Larks was "Margie"/"Rockin' In The Rocket Room," released in March on Apollo's new Lloyds subsidiary. Also in March, the Larks appeared at the "Festival of Music and Dance," held at Manhattan's Savoy Ballroom, and sponsored by radio station WLIB. Others on the bill were the 4 Tunes, the Harptones, Carmen Taylor, Otis Blackwell, and Slim Gaillard.
In May, Bess' publicity item to the trades claimed that the Larks had gotten back together (even though Gene Mumford was the only carryover). She said she was excited over their flair for pop music.
Also in May, the Larks had two sessions for Lloyds. At the first of these (on May 4), they acted as backup for white pop singer Barbara Gale on "When You're Near," "Who Walks In When I Walk Out," "Johnny Darlin'," and "You're Gonna Lose Your Gal" (a song Jimmy Ricks had recorded, with the Benny Goodman Sextet, back in 1950). The first two of these were released in June.
The other session took place on May 13, at which time they recorded "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" (all), "No Other Girl" (Gene), "If You Were The Only Girl In The World" (Orville), and "For The Love Of You" (Orville).
"Tippin' In"/"If It's A Crime" were released in June and reviewed the week of June 19, 1954 (as Pop tunes). Other reviews that week went to the Scarlets' "Dear One," Bobby Mitchell's "Angel Child," the Original Jubalaires "You Won't Let Me Go," and the Eagle-Aires' "Cloudy Weather." Also released in June was "When You're Near"/"Who Walks In When I Walk Out" by Barbara Gale and the Larks.
In late July, the Larks appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show, winning the competition by singing "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise." The reaction to this was so positive that Apollo rushed to issue the song in early August, backed by "No Other Girl." There doesn't seem to have been a review of it, but Walter Winchell gave it his highest praise ("orchids") in his syndicated entertainment column. In spite of all these accolades, the song didn't sell.
Then it was on to the Apollo, where the Larks appeared the week of August 13, along with Ruth Brown, Willis "Gatortail" Jackson, the Hines Kids, and Pigmeat Markham.
Their last Apollo session was held on September 2, 1954; it resulted in four more tunes: "No, Mama, No" (led by Gene), "Honey From The Bee" (Gene), "Os-Ca-Lu-Ski-O" (Gene and David), and "Forget It" (all/David). When I interviewed David Bowers, he admitted that he had no idea what "Os-Ca-Lu-Ski-O" was about.
While the Larks were in town to do an appearance at the Apollo Theater, they got the chance to appear in an early form of music video. They were taken to the midtown Manhattan sound stage of Studio Films, where they filmed five numbers for eventual inclusion in the movie Rhythm & Blues Revue ("The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise") and the Showtime At The Apollo TV series (all the others). Introduced by the almost painfully unfunny Willie Bryant, they sang "Without A Song" (led by Gene and David) "Danny Boy" (David and Gene), "Margie" (Orville), "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise" (David), and "Shadrack" (Orville and Gene). "Rhythm & Blues Revue," which also featured Joe Turner, Count Basie, Ruth Brown, Faye Adams, Amos Milburn, and the Paul Williams Orchestra, finally debuted over a year later (during Christmas week 1955, at the Royal Theater in Baltimore). By that time, it was too late for the Larks to gain any value from it; they had already broken up.
"Os-Ca-Lu-Ski-O" and "Forget It" were released in October 1954, and were reviewed (as Pop tunes) the week of October 9. Other reviews that week were for Ruth Brown's "Somebody Touched Me," the Drifters' "Bip Bam," the Orioles' "If You Believe," the Dominoes' "Come To Me Baby," the Eagles' "Such A Fool," the Sultans' "I Cried My Heart Out," and the Opals' "Oh But She Did."
In November, Apollo released the other two songs by Barbara Gale and the Larks: "Johnny Darlin'" and "You're Gonna Lose Your Gal."
In March 1955, the Larks appeared at the Rainbow Room in York, Pennsylvania. You'll notice that I haven't said much about the Larks' appearances. They simply didn't make it to the trade papers very often.
The final Larks record was issued in June 1955, this time on the parent Apollo label. "Honey From The Bee"/"No, Mama, No" were reviewed (as R&B this time) the week of July 2, 1955, along with the Cardinals' "Come Back My Love," the Tenderfoots' "Sindy," the Jacks' "Since My Baby's Been Gone," the Meadowlarks' "Always And Always," the Smoothtones' "Bring Back Your Love," and the poorly-rated "Death Of An Angel," by Donald Woods and the Bel-Airs.
The breakup of the Larks occurred during a 1955 gig at the Apollo Theater. It was somehow rumored that Gene and Isaiah would be pulled offstage by police because of non-payment of alimony. They refused to go on and through some fancy manipulation, the Orioles finished out the week for them. This served to break up the Larks which saddened David Bowers; he always felt that it was the finest group he'd ever been with.
The recordings of the second Larks show the huge amount of talent contained in this group; it's a shame that, from an R&B standpoint, the quality of material that they got to record was so poor (only "If It's A Crime" being reminiscent of the earlier Larks to which this group must invariably be compared).
Around a year later, David Bowers joined the Argo Ravens; Gene Mumford eventually ended up with the Dominoes, singing lead on their tremendous hit of "Stardust"; and pianist Glenn Burgess went back to the Golden Gate Quartet. In 1959, Orville Brooks and David Bowers joined with Joe Van Loan (of the Ravens, Du Droppers, and Bells) and Willie Ray (of the Du Droppers) to form the Buccaneers, who toured extensively, but made no recordings. When David left, he was replaced by Bob Kornegay, the Buccaneers changed their name to the Valiants, and they recorded "Let Me Go Lover"/"Let Me Ride," released in February 1960 on the Joy label.
In addition to Gene Mumford, the rest of the second Larks group (Orville Brooks, David "Boots" Bowers, Isaiah Bing, and Glenn Burgess) are all deceased.
Unlike most groups, the Larks had two histories. When I interview singers and ask them who their inspirations were, most will mention the Larks in the same breath with the Orioles, the Ravens, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, and the 5 Keys. This is proof positive of the tremendous influence of the Larks.
Special thanks to Charlie LaRocca and Bob Engleman. Ads, as usual, are from Galen Gart's First Pressings series.
JUBILEE (as Selah Singers)
3002 Why Not Today? (HR/AB)/Down Here I've Done My Best (TR) - 10/50
3003 Sorrow Valley (AB/DM)/Since Mother's Done Gone (HR) - 10/50
REGAL (as Jubilators)
3301 Mother Called My Name (AB)/Seek And Ye Shall Find (GM) - 11/50
3316 Get On The Road To Glory (AB)/I've Got Heaven On My Mind (HR) - 3/5
REGENT (as 4 Barons)
1026 Lemon Squeezer (DM)/Got To Go Back Again (DM) - 11/50
Easy Dying Blues (AB)
Lonely Heart (GM)
APOLLO (as Southern Harmonaires)
237 I'm So Glad (GM)/Who Will Your Captain Be (GM) - 1/51
529 Honey In The Rock (HR)/I'm So Glad (GM) - 3/58
APOLLO (as 5 Larks)
1177 Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears (ALL/GM)/My Heart Cries For You (GM) - 12/50
APOLLO (as Larks)
1180 When I Leave These Prison Walls (GM)/Hopefully Yours (GM) - 4/51
1184 My Reverie (GM)/Let's Say A Prayer (GM) - 5/51
427 Eyesight To The Blind (AB)/I Ain't Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes (AB/DM) - 6/51
429 Little Side Car (AB)/Hey Little Girl (ALL) - 8/51
430 I Don't Believe In Tomorrow (AB/GM)/Ooh...It Feels So Good (DM) - 9/51
435 My Lost Love (GM)/How Long Must I Wait For You (DM) - 12/51
1189 Shadrack (AB)/Honey In The Rock (HR) - 1/52
1190 Stolen Love (GM)/In My Lonely Room (GM) - 2/52
437 Lucy Brown (TR)/Darlin' (GM) - 4/52
262 In The Upper Room, Pt 1 (MJ)/Pt 2 (MJ) - ca. 6/52
1194 Hold Me (GM)/I Live True To You (GM) - 7/52
269 He Said He Would (MJ)/[God Spoke To Me - Mahalia Jackson] - ca. 10/52
304 He's My Light (MJ)/[If You Just Keep Still - Mahalia Jackson] - 53
Christmas To New Year's (AB)
All I Want For Christmas (GM)
What's The Matter (AB)
It's Breaking My Heart (GM)
108 Margie (OB/GM)/Rockin' In The Rocket Room (GM/DB) - 3/54
110 If It's A Crime (GM/DB)/Tippin' In (OB/GM) - 6/54
111 When You're Near (BG)/Who Walks In When I Walk Out (BG) - 6/54
112 No Other Girl (GM)/The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise (ALL) - 8/54
114 Os-Ca-Lu-Ski-O (GM/DB)/Forget It (ALL/DB) - 10/54
115 Johnny Darlin' (BG)/You're Gonna Lose Your Gal (BG) - 11/54
475 Honey From The Bee (GM)/No, Mama, No (GM) - 6/55
If You Were The Only Girl In The World (OB)
For The Love Of You (OB)
FILMED FOR Rhythm & Blues Revue and Showtime At The Apollo in 1954
Without A Song (GM/DB)
Danny Boy (DB/GM)
The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise (DB)
LEADS: GM = Gene Mumford; AB = Allen Bunn; HR = Hadie Rowe, Jr.; TR = Thermon Ruth; DM = David McNeil;
OB = Orville Brooks; DB = David Bowers; MJ = Mahalia Jackson, backed by the (first) Larks;
BG = Barbara Gale, backed by the (second) Larks
436 The Guy With A "45"/She'll Be Sorry - 2/52
439 Discouraged/I Got You Covered - 6/52
442 Two Time Loser/My Flight - 9/52
447 Baby I'm Gonna Throw You Out/Wine - 6/53
RED ROBIN (78 RPM copies say "Allen Baum")
My Kinda Woman (with unknown group; see text)/Too Much Competition (no group) - 11/53
WHIZ (Gene Mumford & Serenaders)
1500 When You're Smiling (GM)/Please Give Me One More Chance (GM) - 3/57
COLUMBIA (Gene Mumford solos)
41233 More Than You Know/Please Give Me One More Chance - 8/58
41286 Street Of Dreams/If You Were The Only Girl In The World - 11/58
41415 Come What May/How Will I Know - 6/59
LIBERTY (Gene Mumford solos)
55241 I'm Getting Sentimental Over You/When Day Is Done - 60
55274 I Gotta Have My Baby Back/Brazil - 60