A tasteful drummer and an OK singer, O'Neill Spencer is most famous for his membership in the classic John Kirby Sextet. After playing with local bands in Ohio, Spencer's first important job was with Al Sears in 1930; he picked up more important experience with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band (1931-1936). Spencer joined Kirby's group as early as 1937 and his quiet but steady support kept the group swinging; he also contributed occasional vocals. During the '30s, Spencer also appeared on many record dates including with Red Allen, Mildred Bailey, Sidney Bechet, Frankie Newton, Lil Armstrong, Jimmy Noone (1937), Johnny Dodds (1938), Milt Herth, Andy Kirk, and many others. He contracted tuberculosis in 1941 and was forced to leave Kirby for a period. A brief recovery found him playing with Louis Armstrong's Orchestra and then rejoining Kirby (1942-1943) but he was more seriously stricken the second time and died at the age of 33. O'Neil Spencer led just one record session: four trio sides with clarinetist Buster Bailey and pianist Billy Kyle in 1938. His timekeeping abilities were very highly rated by his contemporaries.
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