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NC Musician Richard Spencer, Known For The Winstons And Much-Sampled 'Amen Break,' Dies At 78

Erin Wygant/WFAE
Richard Spencer with his Grammy for "Color Him Father" in 2017.

Richard Lewis Spencer, a North Carolina musician known for his time with the Grammy Award-winning band The Winstons, died Sunday at 78.

A native of Wadesboro, Spencer played tenor saxophone with Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield. But it was with the funk and soul band The Winstons that landed him on the charts with the song “Color Him Father.”

Spencer wrote and sang that song, and he won a Grammy for it in 1969 for R&B Song Of The Year.

On the backside of the “Color Him Father” record was the song “Amen Brother,” which has a heavily sampled drumbeat known as the “Amen Break.” Although used widely in hip-hop, The Winstons were never paid for the sample.

“I had nothing after the record. I had a high school education and a Grammy, which had no value,” Spencer told WFAE back in 2017.

The Winstons was made up of both Black and white musicians, and Spencer’s brother Rodney said record promoters wouldn’t put their picture on any promotional items.

“They would not promote his record showing an integrated group – Black and white,” he said.

Spencer left music in the 1970s and went to college, eventually getting his Ph.D. at Howard University. He was a licensed Baptist minister and taught high school in Wadesboro.

His brother Rodney remembers record producers approaching Spencer after leaving music and Spencer telling him that he wanted nothing to do with music.

“And he just wouldn’t, he turned his back on it,” he said.

Spencer also wrote a book, “The Molasses Tree: A Southern Love Story.” He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

Rodney Spencer says his brother was the oldest of eight children raised by their mother and grandmother.

He remembers his brother as someone who looked out for people.

“He gave more than he got, and he never expected anything back,” he said. “If you never expect anything back and you’re giving it from your heart, you’ll be all right.”

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