In 1972, a Canadian band called Skylark had a big hit with a song called “Wildflower.” The song was written by band member Doug Edwards and Dave Richardson, who was a friend of Skylark founder and future music business giant David Foster. The original version of “Wildflower” made it into the Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the chart for 21 weeks.
“Wildflower” is the kind of majestic ballad that begs for covers and sure enough, there have been many of them. Among the artists who have recorded the song are Color Me Badd, Hank Crawford, Johnny Mathis, Lisa Fischer, Silk, and the O’Jays. Perhaps the most successful of these cover versions was the one released by the New Birth in 1974.
The idea for the New Birth came from two veterans of Motown Records. Both Vernon Bullock and Harvey Fuqua had been songwriters and producers for the label. The group actually coalesced in Louisville, Kentucky and included musicians Tony Churchill, James Baker, Robin Russell, Austin Lander, Robert “Lurch” Jackson, Leroy Taylor, Charlie Hearndon, Bruce Marshall and Nathaniel “Nebs” Neblett.
The origins of the group go back to 1963 in Louisville. There, Fuqua and Churchill had a band called the Nite-Liters. Russell, Jackson, Lander, and Hearndon were also members of the group. The Nite-Liters had a few hits including “K-Jee” which reached the R&B Top 20 in 1971. Meanwhile, Bullock had the idea of putting together several groups for a touring bill. He discovered a male vocal group called the Now Sound, and a female vocal group called Mint Julep. Bullock added singer Alan Frye, put everyone together with the Nite-Liters, and the New Birth was born in 1970.
The assembled group’s first success came in 1971 when a track from their second RCA album Ain’t No Big Thing, But It’s Growing, a cover of Perry Como’s hit “It’s Impossible,” became a minor hit. But Bullock wasn’t done manipulating the New Birth lineup. He found a group in Detroit called Love, Peace & Happiness (featuring former Marvelette Ann Bogan) and put them together with the Nite-Liters and existing New Birth members Londee Loren, Bobby Downs, and Alan Frye.
The New Birth was now 17 members strong and in 1972 they had their first Top 10 hit with another cover, this one their take on the Valentinos “I Can Understand It.” The single reached #4 on the R&B chart and had crossover success on the pop chart, reaching the Top 40. Bogan soon left the group to take care of her family leaving Loren the only female band member. But Bullock wasn’t happy with her vocal take on the next New Birth single, yes, a cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until it’s Time For You to Go,” and he enlisted former Supreme Susaye Green to sing it. Fuqua and Carolyn Willis of Honey Cone provided the spoken word intro.
In 1974, the New Birth released an album called It’s Been a Long Time. The album spawned hits with the title track (#9 R&B) and their cover of “Wildflower” which reached #17 on the R&B chart and #45 on the pop chart. Later that same year, the sixth New Birth album was released after which the group parted ways with Fuqua and left RCA to sign with Buddha Records.
It was another cover that gained the New Birth their first and only #1 R&B single. This time it was a cover of the Jerry Butler hit “Dream Merchant” (“Mr. Dream Merchant” as released by Butler) which came from the New Birth’s first and only album for Buddha, Blind Baby. After that release, the group decamped for Warner Bros. Records where they had a few minor hits. After two albums for Warners, several members left the group, and the remaining group left Warners.
There were several label and lineup changes before Bullock put together a revamped lineup in 1994 under the name New Birth, leaving behind the ‘the’. Their most recent album was Lifetime which was released by Orpheus Records in 2005.