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Henry Fambrough, Last Surviving Original Member of the Spinners, Dead at 85

Henry Fambrough, the last surviving original member of the R&B group the Spinners and an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, died at age 85.

Fambrough died peacefully of natural causes Wednesday at his Virginia home following a month in hospice care, the Spinners’ spokeswoman Tanisha Jackson told the Detroit Free-Press. His death comes just over two months after Fambrough was on hand for the Spinners’ Rock Hall induction ceremony in November.

“He got to experience those accolades. He was able to bask in the accomplishment, and that was something he was really happy about,” Jackson added. “He was glad to represent the ones who had gone before him.”

Born in Detroit in 1938, Fambrough co-founded the vocal group that would eventually be renamed the Spinners in nearby Ferndale, Michigan, with fellow singers Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, Bobby Smith, and C.P. Spencer. While the group formed in 1954, it would be years later — and following Fambrough’s two-year stint in the U.S. Army — that the group would eventually sign with Detroit’s Tri-Phi Records, which Motown Records soon absorbed.

During a nearly decade-long period with Motown and its offshoot V.I.P. Records, the Spinners scored one major hit — 1970’s “It’s A Shame,” co-written by Stevie Wonder — before the group and recently installed lead singer Philippé Wynne moved to Atlantic Records in 1971 (at the behest of label mate and fellow Detroit singer Aretha Franklin) and soon came under the wing of the label’s recently signed producer Thom Bell.

Though born and raised in Detroit, the Spinners soon became the embodiment of Bell’s Philadelphia soul, rifling off a string of Top 10 hits throughout the Seventies like “I’ll Be Around,” “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,” “Then Came You” with Dionne Warwick (a Number One single), “Games People Play” and “The Rubberband Man,” all produced by Bell.

Although the Spinners endured dozens of lineup changes since their formation 70 years ago, Fambrough was the lone constant, remaining the group’s baritone the entire time until his retirement in April 2023. 

Of the six members of the Spinners inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Fambrough was one of two surviving members, along with John Edwards, who joined the group in 1977 in place of Wynne. Of the founding inducted members, Billy Henderson died in 2007, Pervis Jackson died in 2008, and Bobby Smith died in 2013. Philippé Wynne died in 1984.

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Current Spinners singer Jessie Peck told the Detroit Free Press Wednesday, “[Fambrough] had a desire above all else to keep this going no matter what. He said: ‘Don’t stop. As long as we have fans, as long as people adore our music, keep it going, keep striving to give the music and uphold the Spinners’ legacy.’ That’s what he bestowed on us.”

Peck added, “As a vocalist, he had a voice that never wavered. It never diminished through the years — it was still as smooth as butter. As a performer, he was always consistent. He set the standard for the rest of us about how the Spinners should be: always on point, with every step.”

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