Social Graces 101: In Memoriam Maxine Powell 1915-2013

Maxine Powell 2“Mrs. Powell was always a lady of grace, elegance and style, and we did our best to emulate her. Every asset of my personality has been by her influence. Even to the end, she was making sure that I was standing with posture and exuberant grace.” ” -Martha Reeves

“She taught us all — men and women — etiquette, class and what you are supposed to do,” Duke Fakir, Four Tops

“She gave us more than just the tools for the movements and the gowns, these were tools for us as human beings.”- Mary Wilson, The Supremes

“She was tough, but when she got through with them, they were poised, professional and very thankful.”- Berry Gordy Jr. Founder of Motown Records

Ms. Maxine Powell will be missed. You may ask who is Maxine Powell and why should she be missed? All that poise and elegance that the Supremes,The Temptations as well many other famous singers and singing groups from the world renowned Motown label can be attributed to Mrs. Powell’s behind the scenes training and instruction. Ms. Powell stated the polished, well spoken stars of Motown that some people saw on stage came from humble beginings. Coming from the projects (low income housing) some were rude, crude and spoke with unacceptable language, but by the time she was done with them one would never guess. Under the strict instruction of Mrs. Powell up and coming stars like Smokey Robinson , Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell and many others went from being diamonds in the rough to polished gems that shined with beautiful brilliance.

As the director of Motown’s Artist Development Department, Mrs. Powell taught and trained the artists for two hours a day whenever they were not on the road or recording. Her training covered proper conduct onstage and off: how to speak impeccably and stand erect, to glide instead of just walking, how to sit properly whether in a limousine or on a barstool. “A lady with class can sit on a garbage pail and look good,” Mrs. Powell she told the Supremes during a class. Although she was only with the company for five years, her influence is still felt by those who spoke fondly of her in life and at her passing. Mrs. Powell’s career continued after she left Motown as she provided the same training and instruction at the request of major corporations and spoke and lectured at different colleges, universities and events.

I wish I could have met this phenominal woman and drawn from her years of wisdom. I wonder what kind of impact she could have had on today’s artists if they sat under her teaching. I find it very unfortunate that many of today’s entertainers give very little attention to their conduct and their stage presence and the people guiding their careers seem to care even less. I am sure Mrs. Powell had seen some of the behavior of today’s entertainers and given her high standard of excellence, I am sure she was appalled.There used to be a form of class and polish to entertainers. This is not to say their private lives were not at times a disaster, but  that part of their lives they did not flaunt like a new pair of shoes, there was an effort made to have a respectable appearance in word and in deed. It seems as long as it makes money, it is acceptable.  Now we have gone from this:

The Supremes



Nicki Minaj

Mrs. Powell, thank you for the gift of poise and sophistication you gave many of the artists I grew up listening to, you will be sorely missed.

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