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The Spinners

The Spinners are known as one of the greatest soul groups of the early '70s, a period in which they defined Philly soul with their lush, seductive sound. Ironically, the group's roots are in Detroit, where they formed in the mid-'50s as a doo wop act and made their first recordings, charting with "That's What Girls Are Made For" (1961). It was with Motown that they scored their first of 12 Top 20 pop hits with "It's a Shame" (1970), but they soon moved to Atlantic and with new co-lead singer Philippé Wynne and assistance from songwriter/producer Thom Bell, they developed a distinctive sound showcasing their intricate vocal harmonies and Wynne's breathtaking falsetto. Bell provided the group with an appropriately detailed production, creating a detailed web of horns, strings, backing vocals, and lightly funky rhythms. Between 1972 and 1977, the Spinners and Bell recorded a number of soul classics, including "I'll Be Around," "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "Then Came You," "Games People Play," and "The Rubberband Man." These hits, several of which were also Grammy-nominated, drove a streak of five gold albums from Spinners to Happiness Is Being with the Spinners. Wynne left in 1977 and the Spinners had hits for a few years after his departure, most notably with their medley of "Working My Way Back to You" and "Forgive Me Girl." After the release of 'Round the Block and Back Again (2021), lone original member Henry Fambrough retired, and the group was inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Originally called the Domingoes, the quintet formed when its members were high school students in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale in 1954. The group first featured James Edwards, Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, and C.P. Spencer. After a few weeks, Edwards left and was replaced by Bobbie Smith. Spencer departed in 1956 and had his role filled by George Dixon. In 1961, they came to the attention of producer Harvey Fuqua, who began recording the group -- who named themselves the Spinners that year -- for his Tri-Phi Records. The band's first single, "That's What Girls Are Made For," became a Top Ten R&B hit (number 27 pop) upon its 1961 release and featured Smith on vocals. Following its release, Dixon was replaced by Edgar "Chico" Edwards. Over the next few years, the group released a series of failed singles, and when Tri-Phi was bought out by Motown in the mid-'60s, the Spinners became part of the larger company's roster. By that time, Edgar "Chico" Edwards had been replaced by G.C. Cameron. Though the Spinners had some R&B hits at Motown during the late '60s, including "I'll Always Love You" and "Truly Yours," they didn't have a genuine crossover success until 1970, when Stevie Wonder gave the group the number four R&B hit "It's a Shame," co-written with Syreeta Wright and Lee Garrett. Motown never concentrated on the Spinners, and they let the group go in 1972. Before the band signed with Atlantic Records, Philippé Wynne replaced Cameron as the group's lead vocalist. Wynne had previously sung with Catfish and Bootsy Collins. At Atlantic Records, the Spinners worked with producer Thom Bell, who gave the group a lush, seductive sound, complete with sighing strings, a tight rhythm section, sultry horns, and a slight funk underpinning. Wynne quickly emerged as a first-rate soul singer, and the combination of the group's harmonies, Wynne's soaring leads, and Bell's meticulous production made the Spinners the most popular soul group of the '70s. Once the group signed with Atlantic, they became a veritable hit machine, topping the R&B and pop charts with songs like "I'll Be Around," "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love," "One of a Kind (Love Affair)," "Ghetto Child," "Rubberband Man," and "You're Throwing a Good Love Away." Their albums during this period, consisting of Spinners, Mighty Love, New and Improved, Pick of the Litter, and Happiness Is Being with the Spinners, went gold without fail. The first three topped the R&B chart. Wynne left the band to pursue a solo career in 1977. He was replaced long-term by John Edwards. Though none of Wynne's solo records were big hits, his tours with Parliament-Funkadelic were well received, as were his solo concerts. (Wynne died in October 1984 after suffering a heart attack during a concert in Oakland.) The Spinners had a number of additional hits in the late '70s and early '80s, highlighted by their disco medleys "Working My Way Back to You"/"Forgive Me Girl" and "Cupid"/"I've Loved You for a Long Time." During the early '80s, they had several minor hits before they became active on the oldies circuit. Billy Henderson and Pervis Jackson died in 2007 and 2008, respectively, leaving Henry Fambrough as the lone surviving original Spinner. Bobbie Smith died from complications of pneumonia and the flu in 2013. Fambrough continued to lead the Spinners through several lineups. In 2021, the group released 'Round the Block and Back Again, their first studio album since the '80s. Fambrough retired in 2023, the year the Spinners -- Fambrough, Henderson, Jackson, Smith, Philippé Wynne, and John Edwards -- were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The quartet of Jessie Robert Peck, Marvin Taylor, Ronnie Moss, and C.J. Jefferson continued the legacy of the group on-stage. Henry Fambrough, the last surviving founding member of the Spinners, died on February 7, 2024, at the age of 85.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Andy Kellman /TiVo


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