A happy retirement by Henry Fambrough, the last original member of The Spinners

(April 10, 2023) For soul music fans of the 1970s and 80s, there were few acts that could match the smooth sounds and moves of the legendary Detroit act, The Spinners. And for this writer, The Spinners hold a very special place, as the centerpiece of the very first concert I ever attended, way back in 1972 at Flint, Michigan’s Whiting Auditorium.

Now, more than a half century later, my favorite voice from that group, the ultra smooth baritone Henry Fambrough – the last living member of classic 70s lineup of The Spinners –has retired from active performing. Just a few weeks shy of his 85th birthday, Fambrough has stepped aside from active performing, and is taking a well-deserved rest after decades of constant touring.  But he and his family will still be involved with The Spinners behind the scenes, advising the members of the touring group and helping to manage the touring schedule.

The history of The Spinners is that of a group that hung together through years of lean times before finally achieving the success that their talent warranted. They spent nearly the entire 1960s as Motown’s “forgotten” group, never quite receiving the attention of the label’s other major acts, until Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith, Pervis Jackson and G.C. Cameron received a gift from their friend Stevie Wonder in the form of the song that became their breakout hit, 1970’s “It’s a Shame.” Ironically, by the time the song topped charts around the world, The Spinners’ contract with Motown was over, and their good friend, Aretha Franklin, helped them to land at the rising Atlantic music label.

While the Spinners had not garnered much commercial success during their Motown years, they had earned the interest of a young producer named Thom Bell, one of the architects of “Philadelphia Sound,” a new style of orchestral soul music that borrowed as much from the big bands of the 40s and 50s as from the Motown sound of the 60s, all wrapped up in exquisite production that appealed to adults as much as to the teenagers that AM radio targeted. And Bell chose The Spinners, from among all the artists signed to Atlantic, as the act he wanted to work with.

The newly signed Spinners had to soldier on without GC Cameron, was still locked into a solo contract with Motown, so they recruited his friend, Philippe Wynne, to be their new lead singer. And the results of the group’s pairing with producer and songwriter Bell were historic. Beginning with a string of smash hits from the group’s self-titled 1972 Atlantic debut, and continuing for the remainder of the decade, The Spinners and Thom Bell became arguably the most successful musical pairing of the era. Now iconic hits such “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” “Mighty Love,” “Games People Play,” “Then Came You” (with Dionne Warwick), and “I’m Coming Home” lit up the charts and moved The Spinners to the A-List of popular musical acts around the world.

During this Imperial Period for The Spinners, lead singers Wynne and Smith garnered the most attention. But the handlebar moustached Henry Fambrough seemed to always be the one called up to deliver the smoothest of the soul ballads that the group released, including such fan favorites as “I Don’t Want To Lose You” (his personal favorite), “Just As Long As We Have Love,” and “Ghetto Child.”

Wynne left for an unsuccessful solo career (before sadly dying in 1984), and the group had a second run of fame with dance producer Michael Zager and lead singer John Edwards, landing in the top 10 with covers of “Working My Way Back To You” and “Cupid.”

The hits stopped coming by the mid-80s, but The Spinners kept chugging along as a tireless touring act, traveling several times around the world. Sadly, one by one the original members of the group died, but Fambrough kept the light burning as the group’s leader and last original member. By the time of The Spinners’ welcome 2021 album release ‘Round The Block and Back Again, the group consisted of members Fambrough, Jesse Peck, Curtis “CJ” Jefferson, Ronnie “Raheem” Moss, and Marvin Taylor. And with Fambrough’s retirement, the remaining quartet is the fine group you’ll see if you’re fortunate enough to be at one of their 50+ tour dates this year.

I was blessed to talk with Mr. Fambrough about both some of the group’s highlights over the years and about his retirement. Ever humble, even as he passes the torch as an active performer with The Spinners, Henry Fambrough prefers to focus on the remaining group and not himself. When I asked if he has a message for his fans upon his retirement, he simply said, “Tell them The Spinners are still here and still singing for our people who want to hear us. And that’s not going to change. We’ll still be there for them.”

By Chris Rizik

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