Skip to main content

Passings: Maxine Powell, Motown's Etiquette Instructor

There was always something different about the artists from Motown. They impeccably groomed, dressed to the nines and extremely well spoken in comparison to other artists of the day.

They all had Maxine Powell to thank.

Powell died on Monday morning at Providence Hospital in a Southfield, MI at the age of 98.

Maxine's knowledge of etiquette came through her family. She was born in Texarkana, TX but was raised by her aunt in Chicago who taught etiquette. After high school, she attended a school of beauty and did manicures so she could attend acting school which refined her even more through the study of elocution, dance and movement.

In 1945, Powell visited Detroit and soon moved their. After teaching refinement for a number of years, she opened her own institution, the Maxine Powell Finishing and Modeling School. She also opened the largest banquet facility in Detroit catering to African-Americans.

Powell first became acquainted with Motown after three graduates of her school, Gwen, Anna and Esther Gordy, introduced her to their brother, Barry. She eventually became a founding member of the label's Artist Development department in 1964 under the direction of Harvey Fuqua and also including Maruice King (vocal coach) and Cholly Atkins (choreography).

In her position, Powell worked with all the Motown artists, teaching them grooming, dressing, etiquette and presentation. According to biographies, she taught Marvin Gaye how to stand up straight and open his eyes while singing and Diana Ross how to enter a room and interact with fans.

Barry Gordy issues a statement on Powell:
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.’

She was not only smart, but very funny. Maxine Powell will always be a great part of the Motown family and legacy. We miss her and will always love her.
Later in life, from 1971 to 1985, Powell taught at Wayne County (MI) Community College, later taking on clients on a consulting basis. She was honored by Motown at a ceremony this past August.


Anonymous said…
It's "Berry" Gordy, NOT "Barry".