Acting Role Is Next Stage In Gospel Singer's Career

February 26, 1991|By Michael R. Driscoll | Michael R. Driscoll,Staff writer

They haven't invented enough hours in the day to accommodate Tony Spencer.

The ex-Marine and former paramedic turned fire investigatoris ready to spin his longtime interest in gospel music into a fourthcareer as a performing and recording artist.

In addition, he will soon be seen onstage in the Colonial Players' production of "Working," by Studs Terkel. It's a move, he said, that was a very natural development from his music.

"In singing," he explained, "if you want to draw the audience's attention, there's a certain way you have to bring the songs out, a certain way of inspiration that you have to let the songs flow through you to the audience. So the acting part is something I think has been a part of my life all along."

His audition at CP came at the prodding of a friend who said, "If you can sing like that, you can probably act," after hearing him perform at the Kunte Kinte Festival last year.

Spencer, 39, said he always hoped one day to make a living with his voice. His long detour with the fire department was because of "this old thing of having to eat, plus I had a wife and two kids, and I needed some job security," he said.

The dream of a singing career began as a teen when he was a member of a group called "DC and the Capitols," which opened a concert for Motown legend Smokey Robinson.

His first recording came in 1965 at age 14 with a group called "Trey and the Diamonds." His next record was in 1977 with a gospel choir.

He did not record again for about a decade.

Then, in 1987, Spencer won a national talent contest for gospel singers, which led to his recording the gospel album, "Person to Person," on the independent Enrapture Recordslabel.

"I always wanted to make it a career, and worked toward that," he said, "(Person to Person) was my third time recording, but myfirst as a solo artist."

The contest ran under the auspices of Larnelle Harris, one of only two gospel singers to win five Grammys. Spencer called his encounter with Harris an incredible experience.

"I felt like a kid," he said, "I'd never won anything like that before, and then to win this contest and meet the guy, because I'd been singing his songs since 1981, was an experience in itself."

The Anne Arundel County native graduated from Northeast High School in 1969.

Drafted in 1969, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1971 to 1973, including duty in Washington as part of the Marine Corps' Presidential Honor Guard unit.

He completed his military service at the U.S. Naval Station in Annapolis and at the U.S. Naval Academy.

He traded his military uniform for that of the Annapolis Fire Department,working as a paramedic for 13 years, and for the last three years asan inspector in the fire marshal's office.

But his involvement with music and religion has been the great constant in his life. He is a member of the choir at St. Philip's Episcopal Church on Bestgate Road in Annapolis.

"I started with the choir in church, that's whereit started," said Spencer. I went from gospelsinging to rhythm and blues bands, from about 1965 through 1968. Then of course, the military came up. After that, it was gospel quartets again, and choir."

In recent years, Spencer said, gospel music has enjoyed a slow rise inpopular acceptance. "Gospel has always been a popular word with Christians, or those who really love that kind of music. It's just that in the last 10 years, the secular media has really realized the marketability of the music."

Spencer suggested one reason for this acceptance is a certain similarity between gospel and country music.

Hefinds definite parallels in the themes and emotions expressed in both styles.

Also, most modern gospel songs tend to reflect other more contemporary styles. "For example, when I started singing, it was with R & B groups. So when I went into gospel, it had to reflect that sound."

Now at work on his second album, as yet untitled, and weighing some other projects, Spencer said that having "Person to Person"in hand opened some doors.

"It's a case of being in the right place at the right time," he said.

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