Home Tracks Rediscovering Tobi Legend’s “Time Will Pass You By”

Rediscovering Tobi Legend’s “Time Will Pass You By”

Tobi Lark, originally named Bessie Grace Gupton and later known as Bessie Watson and Tobi Legend, is an acclaimed Canadian soul and gospel singer of American origin.

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Tobi Legend

Tobi Lark, originally named Bessie Grace Gupton and later known as Bessie Watson and Tobi Legend, is an acclaimed Canadian soul and gospel singer of American origin. One of her notable achievements includes a Canadian top 40 hit in 1970 called “We’re All in This Together.” However, her most renowned record is “Time Will Pass You By,” which has become a Northern soul classic. Interestingly, she recorded this song in 1968, considering it to be a mere demo. Unfortunately, it was released under the name Tobi Legend without her consent.

Early Life and Career Born as Bessie Grace Gupton in Alabama, Tobi Lark was raised in Detroit. She began her musical journey by performing in her mother’s gospel choir, known as the Emma Washington Gospel Singers. At the tender age of nine, she embarked on a decade-long tour with the group before landing her first professional gig as a backing vocalist for B. B. King. In 1963, under the name Bessie Watson, she made her initial recording with the Cannonball Adderley Quintet on the Riverside label, featuring the single “‘Deed I Do.” Subsequently, she released two singles, “I’m in Your Corner” and “Wake Up Crying,” on the Jay Pee label. Transitioning to Tobi Lark, she went on to record several singles for Palmer, Topper, and U.S.D. labels, although none achieved significant commercial success. Throughout her career, she had the opportunity to perform alongside notable acts such as the Impressions, the Four Tops, Ben E. King, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and Duke Ellington.

In the mid-1960s, Tobi Lark parted ways with her husband and relocated to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, accompanied by her young son. She showcased her talents in clubs and even performed at Expo 67 before eventually moving to Toronto to work with Ronnie Hawkins. Subsequently, she secured a leading role in the musical Hair, performed in Toronto, and later established the Armageddon Revue at the Blue Orchid club. It was in 1968, in Detroit, that she recorded “Time Will Pass You By,” a captivating song penned by the English-born songwriter and record producer John Rhys Eddins, alongside Nick Zesses and Dino Fekaris. Initially released under the name “Tobi Legend” on the Mala label, the record failed to gain traction until the early 1970s when it garnered attention within the Northern soul scene in the UK. Regarded as one of the “Three Before Eight,” a collection of songs played at the conclusion of all-nighters at the Wigan Casino club, the track has since been featured in various Northern soul music anthologies, including The Best Northern Soul All-Nighter… Ever!, The Northern Soul Story, and The Wigan Casino Story.

Renowned newspaper columnist Laura Barton, from The Guardian, drew a comparison between the record and a Shakespeare sonnet. She eloquently expressed:

“The song is a reflection on the fleeting nature of life and an urging to live more fully and brightly. Its verses embody a sense of melancholy, with the opening lines contemplating the ever-advancing seasons and the misty autumn clouds: ‘

“Passing seasons ever fade away, into misty clouds of autumn grey,
As I sit here looking at the street, little figures, quickly moving feet”

Then the chorus bursts forth, a reprimand or a rallying cry:

“Life is just a precious minute, baby, open up your eyes and see it, baby,
Give yourself a better chance, because time will pass you, right on by.”

Much like a sonnet, ‘Time Will Pass You By’ possesses an essence that evokes Shakespeare’s poetic verses.

The second verse of Tobi Lark’s song:

“I’m just a pebble on the beach and I sit and wonder why,
Little people running around, Never knowing why.” seems to resonate with Shakespeare’s lines.

Returning to her artistic name, Tobi Lark, she released three additional singles on Cotillion Records: “Shake A Hand” (1969), “Just To Hold My Hand” (1970), and “We’re All in This Together” (1970). The last of these was recorded live with a large choir at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, reaching No. 38 on Canada’s national RPM singles chart in November 1970. Tobi Lark continued to work diligently in Toronto, Windsor, and Detroit, collaborating with esteemed musicians such as the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and notable figures like Kenny Rogers. In 1995, she recorded a captivating live CD and graced the stage at the Toronto Blues Society’s Women’s Blues Revue.