(February 9, 2024). With Henry Fambrough’s passing at his home in Sterling, Virginia on Wednesday (Feb. 7) from natural causes, the legendary Detroit-based soul and pop group The Spinners has lost its last surviving founding member.

Fambrough, who was with the group when it was first known as the Domingoes, was its longest-serving member, essentially remaining with the Spinners from its founding in 1954 until April 2023 when he retired from performing.

And, although the Spinners still tour today, none of the current members were with the group during its heyday of the 1970s and early ‘80s… fitting, perhaps, given the passage of time, but sad nonetheless.

Henry Fambrough (seated center) is surrounded by (from left): Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, Jonathan Edwards and Bobby Smith of the Spinners

Fambrough, who was 85, was the only original Spinner that lived to see the band get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2023.  The other founding members who were inducted were Pervis Jackson (d: 2008), Billy Henderson (d: 2007), and Bobby Smith (d: 2013).

Those four, along with original member C.P. Spencer (d: 2004), formed the group in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale before the “rock and roll era” even began.  A series of lineup changes saw Spencer leaving the group, with eventual singers G.C. Cameron, Philippé Wynne, and John Edwards joining longtime member Bobby Smith in lead vocal roles.

Wynne (d: 1984) and Edwards, who along with Smith sang lead on the group’s biggest hits from 1972-80, were included in the Rock Hall of Fame induction along with four of the five founders.  Only Edwards, who suffered a debilitating stroke and stopped touring with the Spinners in 2000, still lives (along with Cameron, who sang lead on their first big hit — and their last one with Motown — “It’s a Shame” in 1970).

But it was Fambrough who carried the torch for the group for nearly 70 years, beginning with its pre-Motown days on the now-defunct Tri-Phi label right on through Motown and eventually Atlantic Records.

The Spinners famously left Motown in 1972 after languishing for many years as cellar dwellers with very few hits and only “It’s a Shame” to show for their wares, which even included serving for a long period as chauffeur and road managers for the more famous acts on Motown’s roster.

That all changed when they signed with Atlantic Records and linked up with the late songwriters Thom Bell and Linda Creed, with Bell also serving as producer.

It was Bell who crafted the Detroit group’s Philly Soul sound and produced their first single for Atlantic, “How Could I Let You Get Away,” on which Fambrough shared lead harmonies with the newly added Wynne. That song reached a modest No. 14 on Billboard’s Hot Soul Singles chart and No. 77 pop.

But it was the record’s B-side that launched The Spinners into another orbit — the No. 1 soul and top five pop smash “I’ll Be Around” — with lead vocals by Smith. 

Both “How Could I” and I’ll Be Around” appeared on the group’s first Atlantic album, humbly titled Spinners, but there was nothing humble or understated about it. 

That album produced five Hot 100 chart hits altogether — a rarity in the pre-Thriller days of 1972-73 — including followup singles “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” “One of a Kind (Love Affair),” and “Ghetto Child.”  It’s Fambrough’s voice you hear first on “Ghetto Child” as he seamlessly shared leads with Wynne and Smith.  (As a child, I always thought the song’s vocals were done by one person.)

That Spinners album was the only studio LP to produce five top-15 singles on Billboard’s soul chart during the 1970s and turned the veteran group into superstars.

Their followup album, 1973’s Mighty Love, kept the momentum going with three more smash hits, including the title track, which hit No. 1 soul, “I’m Coming Home” (No. 3 soul), and “Love Don’t Love Nobody” (No. 4 soul).  All three songs reached the top 20 on the pop chart as well.

But their biggest pop hit came from their next Atlantic album, New and Improved, which included the group’s first No. 1 Hot 100 single “Then Came You” with Dionne Warwick.

That 1974 release also included the followup single “Living a Little, Laughing a Little” (a personal fave) on which Fambrough’s vocals are heard first (in an arrangement similar to that of “Ghetto Child” where he and Wynne shared leads), and “Sadie,” a Philippe Wynne masterpiece and tribute to moms everywhere.

All three singles from New And Improved reached the top ten on the soul chart, continuing the Spinners’ impressive hit streak, although the latter two songs didn’t make as big a dent on the pop list.  

That changed with their next LP, 1975’s Pick of the Litter, which included the awkwardly titled and punctuated 45 “‘They Just Can’t Stop It’ the (Games People Play).”  Thankfully, for history’s sake, Atlantic Records shortened the title to just “Games People Play,” as the song was climbing the charts.

It returned the Spinners to million-seller status as “Games People Play” reached No. 1 soul and top-5 pop at the end of 1975.  The tune was distinguished by two famous vocal anomalies: the bass vocal on the phrase “12:45,” sung by Jackson, and the female part in the pre-choruses sung by regular Philly Soul contributor Evette Benton.

But it was the Spinners at the time who engaged in a little game playing as they often tried to pass off the female part as being sung by Fambrough.  In fact, it is the otherwise baritone singer who lip-synced Benton’s parts on this classic Soul Train performance in November 1975.

The Spinners perform “Games People Play” on Soul Train (aired Nov. 8, 1975).

Ironically, Fambrough was given rare full lead vocal duties on the single’s B-side, the very worthy ballad “I Don’t Want to Lose You,” which received significant radio play and could’ve been an A-side in its own right.

The followup to “Games People Play”/ “I Don’t Want to Lose You” was the single “Love or Leave,” another crossover top-40 pop hit (and personal fave) that gave the group its twelfth-consecutive top-10 smash on Billboard’s soul chart.

On their next album, 1976’s Happiness is Being With the Spinners, Fambrough contributed lead vocals to the song that opened Side 2: “Toni My Love,” a mysterious tale on which (again) he and Philippé Wynne split duties.

But it was Wynne’s signature song, “The Rubberband Man,” that became the album’s standout and the group’s second-biggest hit to date when it sold a million copies and reached No. 2 on the pop chart in December 1976.

It was also around this time that internal strife was forming within the group as Wynne, whose gospel-like vocals and trademark ad libs had begun to standout, wanted to have name-billing on their records similar to what Diana Ross did with the Supremes in 1967. 

But the Spinners — long known for their versatility and the rare ability to almost interchangeably split lead vocals between three or more members — weren’t having it, and Wynne left the group in 1977.

He was replaced by John Edwards who sang lead on the Spinners’ two biggest hits of the 1980s, both light-disco medleys: “Working My Way Back to You”/ “Forgive Me Girl” (No. 2 pop) and “Cupid”/ “I’ve Loved You for a Long Time” (No. 4).

The Spinners would record a few more albums for Atlantic with songs like “Magic in the Moonlight” and “Funny How Time Slips Away” becoming moderate soul chart hits, but they would never recapture the success they’d achieved during the 1970s.

For the next four decades, the quintet would remain a popular touring act often hitting nostalgic circuits and revisiting their classic lineup of hits, or as Jackson once referred to it during a live performance, their “Spinner-rama”!

And it was in 2023 that the group received its long overdue recognition as one of American music’s greatest gifts with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, an honor Fambrough thankfully lived to see.

As a close friend pointed out upon learning of Fambrough’s death this week, the Spinners may very well be the only group of three or more members that recorded top-five hits as recently as the 1970s and early ‘80s whose original members are all deceased.

If that is so, it’s a sad reality that many of us are now facing as the artists we grew up loving are leaving in droves.

Thank goodness we will always have their musical legacies to remind us of how great we had it!

R.I.P. Henry Fambrough (May 10, 1938 – February 7, 2024) and all of the original Spinners and their classic lineup from 1972-77 (Fambrough, Smith, Jackson, Henderson and Wynne).

And thank you for helping form the musical soundtrack of a lifetime.

Henry Fambrough sings lead on this beautiful ballad written by the late Linda Creed, “I Don’t Want to Lose You” (1975)


DJRob (he/him) is a freelance music blogger from the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, disco, pop, rock and (sometimes) country genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff!  You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter) at @djrobblog and on Meta’s Threads.

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2 thoughts on “R.I.P. to Henry Fambrough and the Spinners; Motown put them on the map, Atlantic put them in the Hall of Fame”
  1. RIP Brother Fambrough🙏🏽. I wonder if we will ever this kind of talent and presentation ever again….(in my thoughts).

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