WATERLOO | A man with a golden voice who started his music career as a teenager sneaking out from his home died of cancer Wednesday.
Most people will remember Marvin Spencer, 75, as a singer and performer. Spencer was an inductee in the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association's Hall of Fame as both an individual performer and as a member of the Des Moines-based Cavaliers.
He broke into music at age 16 singing with the Cavaliers. Being too young to drink, he would sneak out of his his home in Marshalltown to perform at night clubs in Des Moines.
"He'd sneak down there, sing and come back," said Spencer's son, Marvin Spencer Jr.
When Spencer was finally caught, his mother was ready to put an end to his young career.
"She was going to go down there and snatch him," Spencer Jr. said. The other Cavalier members promised to look after him, saying they wouldn't have a band without him.
"They treated him like a long-lost brother," he said.
The Cavaliers continued their successful run, a ground-breaking group both musically and socially. The group charted with a single or two, recorded an album and became one of the most popular soul acts in the upper Midwest. In 2001, the Cavaliers were inducted into the IRRMA Hall of Fame. The next year, Spencer was inducted as a solo artist.
"His voice was magic," said Theresa Spencer, who married Marvin in March 1965. "It was a voice that you never, ever forget. It was a voice you want to hear over and over."
"There was never a crowd he would shy away from," Marvin Spencer Jr. said. "He did it because he knew folks enjoyed it."
Music was a constant for Spencer's children. Backyard barbecues became neighborhood talent shows. Spencer's two sons, Marvin and Martin, and daughters, Tricia and Tracie, enjoyed singing. Tracie later embarked on her own successful music career becoming the youngest artist to sign with a major label at age 11. Her single, "This House" reached number three on the Billboard 100 list.
"It was so cool of him to relive a lot of that when Tracie started on her musical journey," Marvin Spencer Jr. said. "We knew right away she wasn't a recreational singer."
Spencer performed up to the end of his life. About a month and a half after his diagnosis, he performed at Sturgis Falls in Cedar Falls last year. He was fatigued and walked with the assistance of a cane. When it was time to perform, Spencer was transformed.
"He almost jogged up on the stage," his son said. "He hit every note, he smiled at everybody and sang like he always sang."
For Spencer's family, the man they will remember was devoted to family.
"He was the best at being a grandfather," Marvin Spencer Jr. said. "My two daughters absolutely cherished him."
Shortly before his death, Spencer woke his wife late one night to serenade her.
"I don't know of anybody who loved his family as much as he did," Theresa Spencer said. "The love he had for his children and grandchildren was overwhelming."
Marvin Spencer Jr. said knowing he touched so many people and that they share in the families loss is reassuring.
"It definitely adds to us being able to celebrate his life," he said.
"He loved music, he lived music," Theresa said.