Not to be confused with Don Julian's Larks, his post-Meadowlarks trio (whose huge R&B hit in 1965 was "The Jerk"), or the Philadelphia-based soul group called the Larks, this group of Larks dates back to the early days of vocal music, with roots in gospel music, and featured the immense talents of Eugene Mumford. The Larks' story actually begins in Durham, NC, in the late '30s, when original core members: Thurmon Ruth, Allen Bunn, Junius Parker, Jimmy Gorham, and Melvin Coldten -- a powerful gospel collective already sharing membership with the Selah-Jubilee Singers, the Southern Harmonaires, and the Jubilators -- began recording for Decca Records, between 1939 through 1944.
In the mid-'40s, the Larks met Eugene Mumford, who had been singing with the Four Interns. They attempted to bring Mumford into the Selah Singers but before they could, Mumford was charged with attempted rape of a white woman and convicted (it proved to be a crime he did not commit). Nevertheless, he was sentenced to a lengthy prison sentence. Mumford ended up serving a few years on a chain gang in North Carolina, until 1949, when he was released with a full pardon from the governor of North Carolina. He quickly joined Thurmon Ruth's new group, the Jubilators, moving to New York in the fall of 1950. The group consisted of Ruth, Allen Bunn, David McNeil, and Pee Wee Barnes.
They began recording under various names: they were the Jubilators when they recorded for Regal, the Selah Singers for Jubilee, the Four Barons for Savoy and the Southern Harmonaires for Apollo Records. Bess Berman, head of Apollo Records, was desperate to make it in the field of newer R&B sound of the then-current bird group trend (the Orioles, the Cardinals and the Ravens et al), Berman changed their name to the "Five Larks," later shortened on their first release to the Larks.
Success eluded them for their first few releases, until they covered a swing-era standard, "My Reverie," which had been a #1 hit for Larry Clinton with vocal by Bea Wain. The Larks' version proved to be a solid seller on the East Coast. A follow-up, the Allen Bunn-led "Eyesight to the Blind," was a Midwest hit, made the national R&B charts and led to various TV appearances including Spotlight on Harlem, The Chesterfield Show, and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, a hit show that was in fact a mainstream American version of Amateur Night at the Apollo. The next single, the jump blues "Little Side Car," sold in sufficient numbers, enough to place it on the Top Ten R&B charts that fall. (It was advertised by Apollo as being by "Bobby Smith and the Larks!)
In January of 1952, Allen Bunn recorded a solo outing for Apollo. Meanwhile, the Larkscontinued to record singles for the label, but weren't earning enough on their one-nighters to continue as performers, and struggled to place new songs on the charts; so, the Larks went their separate ways in 1952. Thurmon Ruth returned to his gospel roots, Raymond Barnes became a session guitarist, David McNeil went on to become a member of the Dominoes.
In February of 1954, Bess Berman of Apollo resurrected the Larks -- with only Eugene Mumford sticking around from the original lineup -- as a mainstream pop music group, competing with acts like the Crew Cuts, the Hilltoppers, the Ames Brothers, and the Four Lads, etc. The reconstituted group -- Mumford, Orville Brooks from the Golden Gate Quartet, and David Bowers and Isaiah Bing from the King Odom Four -- recorded six singles for Apollo's new subsidiary Lloyds Records, and performed at the New York Festival of Music and Drama held in the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. However, success eluded them; the second Larks disbanded in 1955.
Eugene Mumford first went to the Serenaders (who record for Hy Weiss' Old Town), then joined David McNeil in Billy Ward & the Dominoes (he replaced Jackie Wilson). The Dominoes scored two smash hits with Mumford on lead, "Stardust" (1957) and "Deep Purple" (1957). Mumford tried a secular solo career which never took off and was reported to be singing with an Ink Spots group in the 1970s before he passed away. Raymond Barnes became a R&B session musician and is still alive, as is David McNeil. Thurmon Ruth returned to his gospel music roots; he deejays a gospel radio show in NYC. Allen Bunn continued with the Wheels, (whose "My Heart's Desire" on the Premium label was a big hit -- he later became part of the successful R&B duo Tarheel Slim & Little Annie). ~ Bryan Thomas