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Maxine Powell in 2009
© AP / Maxine Powell in 2009
Maxine Powell, Motown Records' chief of charm, dies at 98
By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER, Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) -- Maxine Powell, who was responsible for developing the charm, grace and style of Motown Records' artists during the Detroit label's 1960s heyday, died Monday at age 98.

Motown Historical Museum CEO Allen Rawls said Powell died of natural causes at a hospital in Southfield, Mich.

She didn't sing or write songs, but those associated with Motown say Powell was as essential to the label's operations as any performer or producer.

Bing: Motown tribute

She directed the label's Artists Development Department, also known as "Motown's Finishing School." Through it, she emphasized to many artists — including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Jackson Five and the Supremes — how they should carry themselves, treat people and dress.

Motown founder Berry Gordy said the training school was the only one of its kind offered at any record label.

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

"She was such an important, integral part of what we were doing here at Motown," Robinson said at the Aug. 26 event held at the famed Hitsville, U.S.A, building.

"It didn't matter who you became during the course of your career — how many hits you had, how well your name was known around the world," he said. "Two days a week when you were back in Detroit you had to go to artists' development. It was mandatory."

Gordy paid tribute to Powell via videotape during the celebration, joking that he still remembered many of Powell's sayings, such as "Do not protrude the buttocks," and "Do not confuse me with your parents — they're stuck with you. I'm not."

"You had style," Gordy said. "You gave them class."

Born in Texarkana, Texas, Powell was raised in Chicago, where she began her career as an actress. Powell later moved to Detroit. There, she opened the Maxine Powell Finishing School, where she trained African-American models. One of those models was Gordy's sister, Gwen, who was responsible for bringing Powell to Motown.

Once at Hitsville, she focused on polishing the young artists for their lives in the spotlight.

Some of the training included teaching Marvin Gaye to sing with his eyes open and having others balance books on their heads to improve posture. She also instructed artists on how to properly exit limousines.

Powell said in August 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."

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
42Comments
Oct 15, 2013 2:36PM
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Maxine Powell is our inspiration for creating our own modeling and etiquette program over 22 years ago. Poise, grace, etiquette, manners, and social behavior are missing in todays society and the results have been haunting. Professional Development teaches us to stay in touch with our weaknesses and enhance our strengths. It also helps our children to be respectful as youth and mindful of others when they reach adulthood..
Oct 15, 2013 12:56PM
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Shame there is no one to teach the current crop of pop stars a little grace and poise.
Oct 15, 2013 11:21AM
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I never knew that Motown had a finishing school for their artist . I enjoyed listening to , and watching most of the black artist when I was growing up , simply because they were good , and performed with class . The songs , the lyrics , the dance steps , the way they  dressed , it was all done with class , and it wasn't just at Motown . Can't say that for most of today's artist , black or white , or any color you'd like .  Rest in peace Ms. Powell .   
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Unfortunately, racism is alive & thriving in these United States. Sad, I know. And even more unfortunate, MSN seems to allow too many of them to post on these boards.

 

[See post by Bill Johannson IV.]

Oct 15, 2013 10:50AM
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Why is the death of this wonderful creative woman on small print and not front news. Come on MSN get with it .This woman created class and style in groups of Motown which I wish more groups and single entertainers would go back to.
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