C. P. Spencer

Motown singer

Connoisseurs of the Detroit record label Tamla Motown often pick the vocal group the Originals as the best exponents of the Sound of Young America. C. P. Spencer was the soaring lead tenor on their gorgeous ballad "Baby I'm For Real", a US Top Twenty single in 1969. The song was written by Marvin Gaye and his wife Anna (the younger sister of Motown supremo Berry Gordy), who both had a hand in the group's even more successful follow-up, "The Bells" (1970).

Crathman Plato Spencer, singer, songwriter and producer: born Detroit, Michigan 13 January 1938; married; died Oak Park, Michigan 20 October 2004.

Connoisseurs of the Detroit record label Tamla Motown often pick the vocal group the Originals as the best exponents of the Sound of Young America. C. P. Spencer was the soaring lead tenor on their gorgeous ballad "Baby I'm For Real", a US Top Twenty single in 1969. The song was written by Marvin Gaye and his wife Anna (the younger sister of Motown supremo Berry Gordy), who both had a hand in the group's even more successful follow-up, "The Bells" (1970).

Born in 1938 in Detroit, Crathman Plato Spencer first sang doo-wop on street corners as a teenager with his friend Walter Gaines, a baritone. They both joined the 5 Jets, the group which evolved into the 5 Stars for a single on the Mark-X label in 1958. Things began looking up when they teamed up with Ty Hunter, Lamont Dozier and David Ruffin as the Voicemasters.

The quintet attracted the attention of Gwen Gordy, another sister of Berry Gordy, who released "Hope and Pray" as the first single - catalogue number Anna 101 - on her Anna label in 1960. The group had a local hit with the ballad "Needed (For Lovers Only)" and released further singles, but without making much headway.

By 1964, Ruffin had established himself with the Temptations and Hunter had signed to Chess; Dozier was concentrating on songwriting, but he introduced C.P. Spencer, Gaines and their longtime friend and second tenor Hank Dixon to Freddie Gorman, a bass singer and songwriter, and they became the Originals.

In 1966 the Originals cut a cover of the Leadbelly song "Goodnight Irene" with Joe Stubbs (brother of the Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs). Following Stubbs's departure, they carried on as a four-piece, recording the singles "We've Got a Way Out of Love" and "Green Grow the Lilacs" for Soul, the most appropriately named Motown offshoot, and providing backing vocals for everyone from Jimmy Ruffin to Stevie Wonder via Marvin Gaye.

Keen to help, Gaye suggested they should record "Baby I'm For Real" and took great care over producing the track. While most vocal groups feature one or two singers backed by the other members, the Originals all sang some of the lead parts on their 1969 million-seller.

The following year, they repeated the feat with "The Bells", again built around a Marvin Gaye melody and produced by the Motown star, and the single reached No 12 in the United States. Further singles, "We Can Make It Baby" and "God Bless Whoever Sent You", struggled in the lower reaches of the charts and Spencer left the group in 1972, having contributed to four of the eight albums the Originals issued on Soul/Motown. The group went through a disco phase and Spencer returned in 1978 for two albums on Fantasy; three years later they cut Yesterday and Today (1981), dedicated to Ty Hunter, who died that year.

Often described as Motown's best-kept secret, the Originals later worked with the British producer and soul aficionado Ian Levine on his label Motorcity and made their belated UK live début in Manchester in 2002.

Pierre Perrone

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