OFFSTAGE

Top: Kenneth Spencer with Paul Robeson, New York City, 1939. Spencer was Robeson's understudy in "John Henry." Above: Telegram from writer Langston Hughes wishing Spencer success in "Showboat."

Kenneth Spencer's life was influenced by a cross cultural mix of artists, activists, and wealthy patrons who helped shaped his world view. As his career evolved, so too did his commitment to erase the stereotypes and prejudices against African American people. As a result, he became an inspiration to the next generation of African American artists.

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Above: Spencer with a young Harry Belafontein 1950. The notation on the back of the photo reads "..This club is now called "Birdland." Harry was singing "Bop" in those days... This evening, H.B. asked K. what he should do to get ahead—that jazz singing wasn't getting him far." 

 

 

Kenneth Spencer with Lena Horne at The Cave Supper Club,  Vancouver, Canada, date unknown.

 

 

Kenneth Spencer with Ernest Gruening, the Governor of Alaska in 1948. Kenneth was the first African American to perform in Alaska, and the first person to play a Steinway piano in a concert there. The Steinway was shipped to the 'Land of the Midnight Sun' for the performance

 

 

Kenneth Spencer with Prince Aly Khan, center, at the Deauville Yacht Club, France, August 1959. Aly Khan was the son of Sultan Mohammed Shah Aga Khan III.    He was a socialite, racehorse owner, jockey, and the third husband of American Actress Rita Hayworth.

 

 

Kenneth Spencer with the painter Charles White, Los Angeles, California circa 1950. White was one of America's most renowned and recognized African-American and Social Realist artists. He was a superior draftsman working primarily in black, white and sepia drawings, paintings, and lithographs, with an "artistic sensitivity and power that moved millions."

 

 

Kenneth Spencer singing to war orphans in Italy, 1949. Although Spencer was dedicated to African American causes and the American labor movement, children always endeared him. When he traveled overseas he used his voice as a way to connect with them and help heal some of the trauma they experienced.

 

 

Kenneth Spencer with school children after a recording in Germany, circa 1959