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End of an era


Henry Fambrough, original member of the Spinners, dies at 85

“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.”

 —Henry Fambrough on his 2023 retirement.

Henry Fambrough of the Spinners has died at his home in northern Virginia at the age of 85. Suffering from ill health in recent years, he was able to attend the Spinners’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in November 2023.

Born Henry Lee Fambrough in Detroit in 1938, he was seeped in the gospel tradition of groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Sensational Nightingales before he along with his buddies Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, C. P. Spencer, and James Edward began dabbling in “the devil’s music” by forming what was originally called The Domingoes in the northern suburb of Ferndale. Like many of their contemporaries, their fledgling years in the former Herman Gardens housing projects (a locale which spawned celebrity television host Judge Greg Mathis) were marked by financial hardship as they struggled to make their mark.

Following Fambrough’s induction and discharge from the army, the group recorded their first single with “That’s What Girls Are Made For” for which they were backed by future soul icon Marvin Gaye on drums. This led to their becoming a real “professional” group by securing a contract with Motown Records in 1961.

Aside from the 1970 Stevie Wonder penned “It’s a Shame,” the Spinners did not enjoy much of that company’s historic success, during a period in which the group made ends meet by moonlighting in various capacities including managing higher profile acts and packing vinyl records. Fambrough himself served as music tycoon Barry Gordy’s family chauffeur, and became a surrogate son to Gordy’s mother in the process. Real success came when close friend and “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin facilitated their move to Atlantic Records in 1971 where they came under the sway of producer Thom Bell.

Sporting his trademark “handlebar mustache” Fambrough’s baritone provided an elegant cushion for the group as they established themselves as one of the most successful rhythm and bluses acts of the 1970s. He periodically stepped up to sing lead on tunes like “Ghetto Child” and “I Don’t Want to Lose You.” His 1974 duet with the legendary Dionne Warwick, “Then Came You” reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 record charts.

The Spinner’s accolades include six Grammy nominations, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, induction into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Famein 2015, and the Rock & Roll Hall Fame 2023. In recent years Fambrough’s health forced him into retirement, but he was able to attend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony as the last surviving Spinner in Nov. or 2023.