Maxine Powell, Motown Records 'Finishing School' Head, Dies at 98

Image: Maxine Powell, Motown Records 'Finishing School' Head, Dies at 98

Tuesday, 15 Oct 2013 12:54 PM

By Michael Mullins

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Maxine Powell, who developed and mentored the stars behind Detroit's Motown Records for five decades, is dead. She was 98.

Powell died of natural causes Monday at a hospital in Southfield, Mich., according to Motown Historical Museum CEO Allen Rawls, the Associated Press reported.

Though she didn't sing or write any songs, Powell was known for having played a key role in developing the charm, grace and style that came to define much of Motown during its heyday in the 1960s as the director of the label's Artists Development Department or "Motown's Finishing School," the AP noted.

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"She brought something to Motown that no other record company had," Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement Monday. "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."

Among those who Powell took under her wing were such artists as the Supremes, the Jackson Five, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

In a 2002 interview with CNN, Mary Wilson of the Supremes said that Powell once told the band that "one day, you may be performing before kings and queens."

"And we actually did," Wilson said. "But it was because they taught us how to sit, you know, to talk, and all of these kinds of things."

Powell's passing comes less than two months after she was honored at the museum by Robinson and others, the AP reported.

"She was such an important, integral part of what we were doing here at Motown," Robinson said during the August event in which she was honored.

Upon learning of her death, Robinson released a statement on Monday that read, "She led and lived a long wonderful life. I just saw her a couple of weeks ago and she was very mentally sharp. She was an essential part of Motown."

"We all loved her and she will be truly missed, but the evidence of her will live on and on through all of the Motown family," Robinson added.

In his statement, Gordy quoted Powell as having been tough with many young artists, while also being "poised [and] professional."

"I love you all, but don't confuse me with your mother -- she's stuck with you, I'm not!" Gordy's statement quoted Powell as having told aspire artists. "Ladies, remember your gloves, walk with class like you were taught -- and always remember, do not protrude the buttocks."

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While accepting her Motown award in August, Powell said that she would continue to "teach until there's no breath left in my body."

"I love all the Motown artists," Powell said. "This has been a blessing. I thank God for allowing me to be here."

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