Prince Spencer Inducted 1987 - Class of 1937
The time was mid-June, 1966, and Prince Spencer was playing his first engagement in Toledo, since joining the renowned Four Step Brothers nearly three decades earlier. I've been on the road for 29 great years," the dancer said, and he was planning to retire, but he added this option: "And it's been so great meeting all my old Woodward friends that I might do it one more time before quitting for good."
This may not be the "one more time" he mentioned, but Prince Spencer, who went on from Woodward High School to international acclaim as a nimble footed member of the Step Brothers, is being inducted into the Woodward Hall of Fame to the gratification of all his old--and new-Woodward friends.
A recently published retrospective on Prince Spencer's career contains this paragraph: "Prince Spencer proved without one shadow of a doubt that his special star lighted his path of years at the
Calvin M. Woodward High School ... His zest for winning led him to become a cheerleader plus becoming a letterman on the school’s track team."
Prince Spencer danced his way to world fame without ever having had a dance lesson. Much of his early dancing was done at Woodward. Shortly after he graduated in 1937, he went to New York City to become a contestant on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. He won the contest, and his career took off.
Prince was in Hollywood when he joined the Four Step Brothers. The Step Brothers, variously known as "America's greatest dance team," the "greatest opening act in show business," and "Eight Feet of Rhythm," first began performing in 1930. Prince Spencer joined the quartet in 1940 as a replacement for a member who had died and another death a year later made necessary the only other change in the makeup of the group. In all the ensuing years, the quartet comprised Al Williams and Maceo Anderson, two of the original members; Prince Spencer and Rufus McDonald.
With their exceedingly fast rhythm taps, acrobatic leaps, and boogie-woogie ,jitterbug-style tap dancing, they electrified audiences all over the world. In their heyday, they played every theater and nightclub of importance in the United States. More influentially, they danced their way through racial barriers and everywhere opened doors that had been closed to black artists. They were the first black attraction to play New York City's Radio City Music Hall and appeared there every year for the next ten years. They were the first black attraction to appear at the Club Lido in Paris, where they were booked for six months and stayed for two years. They were such a hit at Paris' Lido that they toured 12 European nations, receiving ovations wherever they performed. Later they made a world tour with the Xavier Cugat orchestra, and in 1961, at the request of President John F. Kennedy, they made a 6-month tour of southeast Asia.
Besides performing for royalty in Europe and Asia, they appeared by invitation at five presidential inaugurations in Washington. And they had featured roles in more than two dozen motion pictures.
Plaudits came to the Four Step Brothers from all levels of society. One of the most recent, on White House stationery over the signature of President Ronald Reagan, had this to say in part: "Maceo Anderson, Rufus McDonald, Prince Spencer and Al Williams have been thrilling audiences for more than fifty years. Their delightful dancing entertained everyone from royalty to Presidents, but it is their work with poor children that deserves our special attention. Through the work of the Four Step Brothers, many underprivileged children can dream and see their dreams come true." "Nancy joins me in saluting the remarkable career of these gifted dancers. . ."
When the quartet finally broke up in a reluctant concession to age, Mr. Spencer went into the supermarket business in Chicago. He built it into a successful enterprise, but show business beckoned again, and in 1975 he went to Las Vegas to become chief administrator of Redd Foxx Enterprises. Since 1979, he has been president of Redd Foxx Productions, Inc., which has vast business ventures among which are motion picture, television, and video productions. And even now, at the age of 69, Mr. Spencer steps out of his guise of successful businessman, wipes the dust off his dancing shoes, and appears on stage with Redd Foxx at many of the comedian's personal appearances.
Mr. Spencer and his wife, Jeraldyn, who was a successful fashion model at the time of their marriage in 1953 and is now a hostess in a leading Las Vegas hotel, are the parents of two sons and a daughter. The walls of their home in Las Vegas are lined with the photos of many of the biggest names in show business. The other occupants of the home include three blue-ribbon dogs which have a pet of their own to play with -a parrot which Mr. Spencer insists whistles, sings, and walks around thinking it is a dog, so much so that it will eat nothing but dog food.
Which brings up the question of how Mr. Spencer happened to come by his given name. "I don't know why they named me Prince," he says. "Do you suppose my father wanted a dog instead?"