As of last month, Henry Fambrough is the last original Spinner.
The Georgia-born, Michigan-bred Fambrough, who will turn 75 in a month, is the final founding member standing of the veteran R&B singing group. That was made official when longtime lead singer Bobbie Smith passed away in March at the age of 76.
Even though Smith was diagnosed with lung cancer last November, the death came as a shock to Fambrough and his other Spinners. Before he died, he was still performing with the group, doing a boat gig aboard the “Soul Train Cruise.”
“He came out and spent the week out there with us, two weeks before he passed,” remembers Fambrough, on the phone from his Troy, Mich., home. “And he was doing really good, and we were looking forward to him beating the cancer that he had.”
Unfortunately, the week after that, he got pneumonia that his body couldn’t handle. Although they’ve lost one of their own, Fambrough and the current lineup of Spinners – Charlton Washington, Jessie Peck and Marvin Taylor – continue to perform. In fact, they’ll be in town Friday performing at a benefit for the Raleigh Professional Firefighters Association. “The plan of action is always performing, because we have lost members along the way,” says Fambrough. “And we always perform with the four guys, regardless.”
Considering that the group has been out there for six decades, disbanding doesn’t seem like an option. For Fambrough, who was there back when they were known as the Domingoes, this is all he knows.
“This is our lifestyle – in fact, this is our job, you know,” he says. “It’s like a fellow working at Ford Motor Company, you know what I mean?”
As a group, the Spinners have garnered quite the legacy. Originating from Detroit, they started out recording on manager Harvey Fuqua’s Tri-Phi Records before moving over to Motown. While they didn’t score much success then, they did release a top-20 hit with the Stevie Wonder-penned “It’s a Shame.”
In 1972, they signed to Atlantic after being encouraged by the label’s biggest star, Aretha Franklin, whom they were touring with at the time. They began recording music with famed R&B writer/producer Thom Bell.
Throughout the ’70s, the Spinners worked exclusively with Bell, recording albums that would go on to be certified gold: “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “I’ll Be Around,” “Games People Play,” “The Rubberband Man.”
It was a different experience than their time at Motown. “Motown had Holland/Dozier/Holland,” says Fambrough.
“They had a whole lot of different producers there that were producing on different artists, OK? And when we got to Thom Bell, he had the staff of writers to write for the Spinners only. That’s something we never had – somebody to concentrate on our sound, other than Harvey Fuqua, you know.”
Although the Spinners haven’t released an album of original music since 1989 (Fambrough says they’re planning to get back in the studio soon), they are still sought after, entertaining audiences all over the world. Fambrough is auditioning singers to be the newest fifth member. “I’m going to take my time and just go make sure I find someone that has our outlook on life,” he says.