Woman responsible for leading Motown’s famed finishing school passes away peacefully this morning
Maxine Powell, the catalyst behind Motown’s famed finishing school, where young and up-and-coming artists were taught about style, class and refinement as part of Motown’s Artist Development Department, died this morning (October 14, 2013) peacefully surrounded by Motown family and close friends at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., at the age of 98 years old.
Some of Ms. Powell’s accomplishments include:
- She is best known for leading Motown’s in-house finishing school. Ms. Powell’s role within Motown was to teach the record company’s young aspiring superstars—most of whom came from Detroit’s neighborhoods—class, style and refinement.
- Born in Texarkana, Texas, she was raised in Chicago, Illinois, where she began her career as an actress at the age of 14.
- She then came to Detroit and opened The Maxine Powell Finishing School—where Ms. Powell trained African-American models, of which Berry Gordy’s sister Gwen was one of them. She assisted Gwen in becoming the first African-American model for the automobile industry. Gwen Gordy was responsible for bringing Ms. Powell to Motown. She then closed her successful finishing school and became part of the Motown family—making Motown the first record company to employ a full-time finishing coach. It was unique then, and still today, for a record company to teach budding artists how to present themselves as they entered the unfamiliar public eye.
- In her role, she focused on preparing young Motown artists and polishing them for their lives in the spotlight. Some of her training for them included teaching Marvin Gaye to sing with his eyes open, teaching young artists to balance books on their heads leading to improved posture and teaching artists how to properly exit limousines, to name a few. Many Motown greats including Mary Wilson (original member of The Supremes), Martha Reeves and others credit Powell as the woman who taught them how to confidently enter a room and represent themselves in a polished manner when engaging with fans. Stars like Smokey Robinson, Cal Street of the Velvelettes, Duke Fakir of Four Tops honored her in August 2013 for her contributions to their careers and making Motown artists recognized for their polished performance and presentation.
- According to Ms. Powell, “I taught young artists the life skills they needed to succeed. I taught class, style and refinement. I told them they were being taught to stand before Kings and Queens at Buckingham Palace and the White House; and they did.”
- According to Berry Gordy, Founder of Motown: “Maxine Powell was not only a very special lady, she was unique in every way. She brought something to Motown that no other record company had. She was a star in her own right – an original. She will always be remembered for her style and class, and she instilled that into the Motown artists by teaching them how to walk, talk and even think with class. She was tough, but when she got through with them, they were poised, professional…and very thankful.
‘I love you all,’ she’d say, ‘but don’t confuse me with your mother—she’s stuck with you, I’m not! Ladies, remember your gloves, walk with class like you were taught — and always remember, do not protrude the buttocks. One day, you will perform for the Kings and Queens of Europe, but for now we must make the best of it on the circuit of the Chit-ter-ling.’
Maxine Powell will always be a great part of the Motown family and legacy. We miss her and will always love her.” —Berry Gordy, Founder of Motown, Oct. 14, 2013
- Access to Motown Museum, located at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. in Detroit; Motown Museum Interim CEO Allen Rawls is available today for commentary about the life of Ms. Powell. Interviews are also available with Beverly Bantom (Ms. Powell’s closest friend).
- Approved photography of Ms. Powell.
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