Maxine Powell, a revered finishing school instructor who served as director of Motown Records' Artist Development department, died Monday (Oct. 14) at age 98. According to the Detroit Free Press, she was “peacefully surrounded by Motown family and close friends.”
Powell was born in Texarkana, Texas; raised in Chicago; and lived in Detroit, where she opened the Maxine Powell Finishing School, teaching poise and posture. It was there that she worked with Gwen Gordy, sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy, and a model at the time. Gwen introduced Powell to Berry, and in 1964 she translated her school lessons into an artist development program for the label, working with The Jacksons, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson among other acclaimed acts.
"She was such an important, integral part of what we were doing here at Motown," Robinson said, according to the AP, at a tribute to Powell that the Motown Historical Museum delivered less than two months ago.
"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 — two days a week when you were back in Detroit you had to go to artists' development. It was mandatory."
"She was a star in her own right — an original," Gordy said via a statement given Monday. "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."
Powell died of natural causes at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich.
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(Photo: AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)