Top: Kenneth Spencer with sister Gwedolyn, Los Angeles ca., 1918.

Middle: Kenneth's mother Emma McClellan, second from left, in this undated family photo. Emma was four years old when her "serious, God-loving family" made the trek from Texas to Los Angeles. William Eugene Spencer, a semi-skilled metal worker with a love for music and theatricals married the soft-spoken Emma in 1909, and they moved into their own, unpainted clapboard house at 438 South Savannah Street in Boyle Heights, a suburb that became absorbed into the main body of Los Angeles, California.

Bottom: Kenneth Spencer circa 1913, inscription on back identifies (l to r), "Aunt Bessie, Mama, Roy, the stepmom is holding Ken.."

 


 

Kenneth Spencer, age 6 months, Los Angeles, California, taken October 22, 1911.

 

 

Kenneth Spencer at about age 15. Writing on back of photo reads: "probably his first pair of long pants." Los Angeles, California, ca. 1926.

 

 

Through the YMCA and other public institutions, Kenneth Spencer was able to have voice lessons from qualified teachers outside of school. Spencer right, is seen with the Two-Eight YMCA Quartet, from the 28th Street YMCA in Los Angeles. Created when he was a student at Roosevelt High School, Spencer and the "Two-Eight" moved to San Francisco after graduation to pursue work singing. ca 1931.

 

 

Kenneth Spencer, around the time of his first major public performance at age 19, as a special soloist at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, in 1930. Spencer would return to the Hollywood Bowl eight years later for a one-night performance of the opera "Gettysburgh."

 

 

There are three major influences on Kenneth Spencer's early life:

Mrs. 'Kip' McMurray (right), Spencer'svoice teacher in San Francisco, was trained in Berlin and taught him German baroque and romantic composers, as well as the principles of German pronunciation. The great tenor Roland Hayes (left),  was one of the first African American singers to be trained in Europe, and who recommended Spencer for a scholarship into the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in 1934, and wealthy music lover Noel Sullivan (not shown), who underwrote Spencer's voice lessons for two years while he was living in San Francisco.

 

 

Left: Kenneth Spencer in a hand-out photo ca 1932.

Right: Words of encouragement to Kenneth Spencer from his voice teacher Mrs. 'Kip' McMurray, written on the back of her photograph, before he departed for the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, New York in 1934

After graduating from high school, Spencer earned money as a road-builder and gardener, and along with the help of some private donors, was able to move to San Francisco in 1931, to sing with the Two-Eight Quartet and further his voice study.  The Two-Eight performed at various night clubs for money and the only decent meal of the day. When the quartet dissolved that same year, Spencer started his own broadcast on Radio KPO, consisting of a weekly series of singing and readings called "Truthful Deacon Brown."  In 1932, Spencer became part of the NBC Artist Bureau, giving him three broadcasts weekly in which he read poetry and sang. He became a well-known radio artist in the west coast, which also opened doors for singing and concert work.