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Musical matriarch Esther 'Moe' Spencer kept big family in harmony

The Spencer Family group is shown in the 1970s at home in Oldsmar. From left are Donna Walker, Esther Spencer, Diana Caiozzo, Tim Walker and Donald Spencer, Esther’s husband.

Courtesy of the Spencer family

The Spencer Family group is shown in the 1970s at home in Oldsmar. From left are Donna Walker, Esther Spencer, Diana Caiozzo, Tim Walker and Donald Spencer, Esther’s husband.

OLDSMAR — For more than 50 years, the Spencers played several varieties of foot-stompin' music to eager crowds. The Spencer Family, which later changed its name to the Country Heirs, performed bluegrass, gospel, Hawaiian and classic country music at venues statewide.

Esther "Moe" Spencer played the dobro guitar and a Hawaiian lap steel guitar. She also played wife and mother, house painter and dress maker, whose nimble fingers could pick a guitar or embroider a costume for a grandson who impersonates Elvis professionally.

Esther Delp was born in 1923 in the Allegheny Mountains region of Pennsylvania, apparently with perfect pitch. She started guitar as a child and quickly caught on, even though she never learned to read music.

At 15, she married Donald Spencer, who was four years her senior and played the guitar. They harmonized constantly around the house, and taught their four children to play numerous instruments. A family musical act was born.

They specialized in Hawaiian themes, fast-picking bluegrass and country music from the era of Ernest Tubb or Kitty Wells. Esther and Donald yodeled in harmony.

"She's one of just a few ladies that have ever mastered that Hawaiian lap steel (guitar)," said daughter Donna Walker. "The only other one I knew of was Barbara Mandrell."

The family moved to Oldsmar in 1947. Mrs. Spencer made ends meet by mowing lawns while her husband made cabinets. "We didn't have to be raised by millionaires," said Donna Walker, 72. "But we were rich in our music, humor and love."

Despite her clear-cut sense of right and wrong, Mrs. Spencer often flashed a comic side. She was quick with a wisecrack, and punted a football to her grandchildren into her late 70s.

Donald Spencer died in 2003. Mrs. Spencer last played a dobro in front of others four years ago, shortly after entering a Palm Harbor nursing home. She died Oct. 28, a matriarch of a musical family that spans four generations.

Mrs. Spencer was 88.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

.BIOGRAPHY

Esther Jane Delp Spencer

Born: March 7, 1923

Died: Oct. 28, 2011

Survivors: daughters Donna Walker, Diana Caiozzo and Sherry Eisenhuth; son Allan Spencer; nine grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and four great-great-grandchildren.

Celebration of life: 6 p.m. Nov. 10, Community United Methodist Church, 207 Buckingham Ave. E, Oldsmar. Covered dish, live music to follow.

Musical matriarch Esther 'Moe' Spencer kept big family in harmony 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 9:34pm]
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