The Spinners’ Henry Fambrough, whose rich baritone and charismatic stage presence helped lift the R&B/soul group to musical heights, died Wednesday of natural causes. He was 85 years old.
Fambrough was the last surviving member of the Spinners’ founding lineup, and was present at the group’s November induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in New York. Fambrough and the Detroit-based group were also honored at a series of events in his hometown last May, including a weekend of celebration at the Motown Museum.
“He was able to experience those accolades. He was able to enjoy the accomplishment, and that was something that made him very happy,” Spinners spokeswoman Tanisha Jackson told The Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network. “He was happy to represent those who had gone before him.”
Fambrough, a US Army veteran, entered hospice care in late January, a representative for the group told the Detroit Free Press, and died around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Herndon, Virginia. After seven decades with the Spinners, he retired from the group in early 2023 and moved to Virginia from his former home in Michigan with his wife, Norma Fambrough.
Fambrough, born in Detroit in 1938, was a talented singer, a natural performer and a sensitive soul. He and the Spinners were ubiquitous at the top of the R&B and pop charts in the 1970s, scoring hits such as “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and “Then You Came,” “Games People Play,” “The Rubberband Man,” “Working My Way Back to You” and more.
While normally part of the Spinners’ tapestry of harmonies, Fambrough had his moments in the spotlight, including 1973’s. “Ghetto Child” a Top Five R&B hit.
Formed in Ferndale, Michigan, in 1954, the Spinners struck a deal with Tri-Phi Records, which was absorbed by Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. At Motown, the group found a fruitful training ground, though limited commercial success; The biggest success came with the song written by Stevie Wonder. “It is a pity” in 1970.
But for Fambrough and company, a second career opportunity awaited them: signed to Atlantic Records in 1972 and now featuring lead singer Philippé Wynne, the Spinners had a good run, becoming ubiquitous on the airwaves and attracting everyone at concerts. Wynne was the magnetic frontman, but Fambrough, sporting a distinctive mustache, was unmistakable on stage.
The Spinners’ music in the ’70s was affiliated with the reigning Philadelphia R&B sound of the time, particularly producer Thom Bell, who oversaw most of the group’s biggest hits.
“As a vocalist, he had a voice that never wavered. It never diminished over the years; it was still as smooth as butter,” said Spinners bassist Jessie Peck, who joined the group in 2008. “As a performer, he was “Always consistent. “He set the standard for the rest of us for what Spinners should be: always on point, every step of the way.”
As hardworking behind the scenes as he was on a concert stage, Fambrough insisted on upright and elegant conduct from his bandmates as the Spinners recruited new members over the decades. It was all a matter of character.
On Wednesday night, Peck reiterated Fambrough’s message: “Being a Spinner is a responsibility and an honor.”
At the Motown Museum this past May, Fambrough joined former Spinners lead vocalist GC Cameron and several newer members for several stirring performances, including an a cappella performance of “It’s a Shame” in Hitsville’s Studio A, where they had recorded the song decades earlier. .
Fambrough was preceded in death by several of his fellow Spinners, including group co-founders Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith and CP Spencer.
“He had the desire, above all, to continue with this no matter what. He said, ‘Don’t stop. As long as we have fans, as long as people love our music, keep it up, keep striving to give to music and defend the legacy of the Spinners,'” Peck said. “That’s what he gave us.”
Fambrough is survived by his wife, Norma Fambrough; daughter Heather Williams; son-in-law Ronald; and a sister, Martha.
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