Bobbie Smith, 76; lead singer on hits for the Spinners

Bobbie Smith (rear, left) continued to perform with the Spinners until last month. They made top hits in the 1970s.
Atlantic Records
Bobbie Smith (rear, left) continued to perform with the Spinners until last month. They made top hits in the 1970s.

NEW YORK — Bobbie Smith, whose mellifluous vocals helped make the Spinners one of the leading soul acts of the 1970s, died on Saturday in Orlando. He was 76.

The cause was complications of pneumonia and influenza, said his son, Ron, who plays guitar for the Spinners. The elder Smith had been receiving treatment for lung cancer.

Bobbie Smith was with the Spinners from their early days as a doo-wop group in Detroit to recent years on the oldies circuit. To the end, with their close harmonies, smooth choreography, and matching outfits, they were the model of an old-school rhythm-and-blues vocal ensemble.


Mr. Smith was the lead singer on the group’s first hit, ‘‘That’s What Girls Are Made For,’’ which reached number 27 on the Billboard singles chart in 1961, and on three records that reached the Top 10 in the 1970s: ‘‘I’ll Be Around’’ (1972), ‘‘Could It Be I’m Falling in Love’’ (1973), and ‘‘They Just Can’t Stop It,’’ better known as ‘‘Games People Play’’ (1975). He also harmonized with Dionne Warwick on ‘‘Then Came You’’ (1974), a collaboration that was the Spinners’ only number one hit.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Mr. Smith often shared lead vocals with Philippe Wynne, who joined the group in 1972. Typically Mr. Smith would handle the beginning of a song and Wynne would take over with gospel-style fervor toward the end.

‘‘Bobby took the engine from zero to 70, then Philippe took it from 70 to 150,’’ Thom Bell, who produced most of the Spinners’ biggest hits, said in a phone interview.

But Mr. Smith, he added, ‘‘was the original sound throughout the entire career of the Spinners.’’

Robert Steel Smith was born in Abbeyville, Ga., and moved with his family to Detroit.


In the mid-1950s, he and his friends Henry Fambrough, Pervis Jackson, Billy Henderson, and C.P. Spencer began singing together as the Domingoes. By the time they signed with the local ­Tri-Phi label a few years later, they had become the Spinners, a name said to have been inspired by the hubcaps on Mr. Smith’s car.

The Spinners spent much of the 1960s under contract to Motown.

But established groups such as the Temptations and the Four Tops got more attention, and the Spinners had only one Top 20 hit during their tenure: ‘‘It’s a Shame’’ (1970), produced and co-written by Stevie Wonder, on which G.C. Cameron sang lead.

They became consistent hitmakers only after they left Motown for Atlantic, where Bell became their producer and Wynne replaced Cameron as the second lead vocalist.

The Spinners, in various permutations, stayed together after the hits stopped coming in the 1980s, and despite his health problems Mr. Smith remained with them until the end; he last performed with them a month ago, Ron Smith said. Fambrough, who is still with the group, is now the only surviving member of the original lineup.


In addition to his son Ron, Mr. Smith leaves his wife, Lorraine; his sons Lamar and Richie White; his daughter, Vanessa; and three grandchildren.