Maxine Powell Dies

Maxine Powell, the former leader of Motown Records’ famous ‘Finishing School’, died on Monday October 14 at the age of 98. Officially titled the ‘Artists Development Department’, Powell’s fiefdom was considered by label founder Berry Gordy to be as important to its operations as any singer or producer, especially during the company’s sixties heyday.
In essence, Powell taught Motown’s artists how to carry themselves, treat people and dress, even including details such as how to exit a limousine properly. She also trained Marvin Gaye how to sing with his eyes open.
Her death comes less than two months after a tribute event held in her honour at the Motown Museum in Detroit. The event saw singer Smokey Robinson describe Powell as “such an important, integral part of what we were doing here at Motown.”
Born in Texarkana, Texas, Powell grew up in Chicago and began her career as an actress before moving to Detroit. There she opened the Maxine Powell Finishing School where she trained African-American models, including Gordy’s sister, Gwen.
In a videotaped tribute played at the August ceremony, Berry Gordy remembered some of Powell’s advice to her students included, “do not protrude the buttocks.” He went on: “You had style. You gave them class.”
Powell said in response that she would, “teach until there’s no breath left in my body.”
“I love all the Motown artists,” she said. “This has been a blessing. I thank God for allowing me to be here.”