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Maxine Powell

Motown talent agent Maxine Powell was born in Texarkana, Texas, and raised in Chicago, Illinois, by her aunt, Mary James Lloyd, who taught etiquette and refinement. Powell attended Keith and Willard elementary schools. Before Powell graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1933, her aunt passed away. Powell attended Madame C.J. Walker’s School of Beauty Culture and worked as a manicurist to finance her acting studies; for eight years, she studied elocution with James Baron, playwright, producer, and director of the Negro Drama League. Powell also took dance and movement lessons from Chicago legend, Sammy Dyer.

Soon, Powell developed a one-woman show called An Evening with Maxine Powell complete with pantomime and skits and performed with the first African American group to perform at the Chicago Theatre. At the same time, Powell taught etiquette as a personal maid to wealthy clientele and held fashion shows featuring the Fashionettes.

After reading a magazine article about John White’s nine-story, 200 room Gotham Hotel, Powell visited Detroit for eleven days in 1945; soon after she moved to Detroit and was teaching self-improvement and modeling classes. In 1951, Powell established the Maxine Powell Finishing and Modeling School. In 1953, Powell bought and remodeled a huge house on Ferry Street which became the largest banquet facility in Detroit for African Americans. As a member of the Zonta Club, Powell brought black productions and artists to Detroit venues; as head of her own agency, she was the first to place black models with several of Detroit’s automobile companies and in mainstream print ads. In 1964, Motown founder Berry Gordy’s sister, Gwen Gordy Fuqua, a top Powell model, convinced Gordy to establish a Powell finishing school for Motown talent. Powell taught Marvin Gaye posture and how to sing with his eyes open. Diana Ross, The Temptations, and Martha Reeves acknowledge Powell as the one who taught them how to enter a room and work with their fans.

From 1971 to 1985, Powell taught personal development at Wayne County Community College. After 1985, Powell began working as a consultant on an individual basis.

Maxine Powell passed away on October 14, 2013.

Accession Number

A2005.024

Sex

Female

Interview Date

1/21/2005

Last Name

Powell

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Hyde Park Academy High School

Keith School

Frances E. Willard Elementary School

First Name

Maxine

Birth City, State, Country

Texarkana

HM ID

POW04

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Texas

Favorite Vacation Destination

London, England

Favorite Quote

Beauty Is Self-Discipline.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Michigan

Birth Date

5/30/1915

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Detroit

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Broccoli

Death Date

10/14/2013

Short Description

Etiquette director and talent agent Maxine Powell (1915 - 2013 ) was the etiquette director for Motown Records where she taught posture and other etiquette techniques to Motown recording artists, including Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. In addition to her activities with Motown, Powell founded the Maxine Powell Finishing and Modeling School in Detroit.

Favorite Color

Coral

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Maxine Powell's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Maxine Powell lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Maxine Powell describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Maxine Powell describes the aunt who raised her, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Maxine Powell talks about her father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Maxine Powell remembers her aunt's stern discipline

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Maxine Powell describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Maxine Powell remembers her childhood in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Maxine Powell describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Maxine Powell recalls her childhood concerns about racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Maxine Powell describes how her aspirations developed as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Maxine Powell remembers how her aunt's influence taught her to deal with racism

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Maxine Powell recalls a lesson from her aunt

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Maxine Powell remembers the African American community of her childhood in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Maxine Powell describes responses to discrimination she saw in the African American community of her childhood and today

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Maxine Powell locates the origins of the Maxine Powell System in her early concerns about racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Maxine Powell remembers studying elocution with James Baron

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Maxine Powell remembers a theatrical experience that helped her develop the Maxine Powell System

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Maxine Powell remembers James Baron

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Maxine Powell talks about her experiences as a performer in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Maxine Powell remembers the neighborhood she moved to after her adoptive parents' deaths

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Maxine Powell recalls working as a personal maid

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Maxine Powell remembers how she responded to disrespect while working as a personal maid

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Maxine Powell talks about the jobs she had prior to becoming a personal maid

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Maxine Powell remembers her friends Lois Parham and Ruth Nemo

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Maxine Powell recalls being adopted by Lois Parham and Ruth Nemo

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Maxine Powell recalls being discouraged from joining the Women's Army Corps

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Maxine Powell recalls being discouraged from being a manicurist

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Maxine Powell describes meeting Leila King at the Gotham Hotel in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Maxine Powell remembers becoming a manicurist at the Gotham Hotel in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Maxine Powell describes her guardians' opinion of her move to Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Maxine Powell talks about class distinctions within the African American community of her youth

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Maxine Powell describes her room at the Gotham Hotel in Detroit, Michigan

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Maxine Powell talks about being entertainment director for Zonta International in Detroit, Michigan

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

7$8

DATitle
Maxine Powell describes her earliest childhood memory
Maxine Powell remembers a theatrical experience that helped her develop the Maxine Powell System
Transcript
Do have an earliest childhood memory?$$Yes. We went to church. My aunt [Mary James Lloyd] made wine. She made the grape juice for the church, and she made about four different types of wine. Excuse me. I remember they would be in barrels. And she was the great baker. Like, today you might serve someone that's visiting you food or a cocktail. And my aunt would serve you wine, and she baked a three-layer jelly cake, a three-layer coconut cake, a three-layer chocolate cake. So whenever you came to our home, you would get a glass of wine and also a piece of cake, whether you wanted it or not. She called that hospitality, anyone that came over our threshold. And then the minister--she served the--made the, as I said before, the grape juice for the church. And then the minister would come to our house several times to eat. And I hated to see him coming because my aunt--I loved the thigh of the chicken. And he would eat up--she would cook--she liked to go to the poultry and have the chicken killed so that they would be first, and she wanted them to be two and a half pounds after they were dressed. And she'd cook about three. And that minister would eat every one of those thighs. And I hated to see him coming (laughter). But my aunt, her teaching was, anyone that came over our threshold, no matter how they act or how rude they were or whatever, we had to treat them with due respect. And if we felt that they were people that you did not want to associate with or they were destructive in any way, then you didn't allow them in. But once they came in, you had to treat them with respect. Well, I found from that, I learned discipline.$$Okay.$$See, she was always teaching. I learned discipline.$So you mounted two one-woman shows. Can you think of the name of any, of either one?$$Well, it was just 'An Evening with Maxine Powell.'$$Okay, good. Okay--$$Yeah, and then I--and if I pantomimed I was telling a story. I was--I had a job where I worked in an office somewhere. But I had a little girl--I guess it was a little girl. And when I came home in the evening, I would greet her. Well, all this is--I'm pantomiming. And I would greet her and then this one particular evening, I--she evidently was sick, and I came and picked her up and kissed her and was throwing her up in the air and playing with her and whatnot, and all of a sudden, I could see something was wrong with her. And then I began to get very concerned and call 911 or call somebody--I don't know it was the 911, but whatever you did in that day for an emergency or whatnot. And I know I was performing for a group. And they went and got a doll, you see, and tried to hand it to me, and I wouldn't take it, because I wouldn't be doing my job if you couldn't follow me. I wouldn't have to have a doll, 'cause then you would know it was a baby or whatever, you see. So I always wanted to do what I was supposed to do and master it. And I didn't feel bad if I didn't master it. I figured it'd do something else, you know, because I figured I think everybody is qualified and everybody is--can be great. We're born to be great in some way. Some people--and everybody is somebody, see. Because I don't care how much money you have or what color you are or where you're from, everybody came into the world helpless and innocent--couldn't walk, couldn't talk, couldn't take care of your toilet where, toilet, or any kind of way, see, regardless of who you were.$$Now--$$See, and then I always thought that, as I said today, allow me to help you unmask and discover what a beautiful, unique human being you are, because is somebody and everybody was born to be great in some way.$$Okay.$$Some people live a lifetime and never find out who they are or who great they can be. You don't have to be number one, you can be two, three, or four, long as you're great in your field in whatever you do and you master it, not among your race, but around the world with anybody. That's what I teach today.