The Supremes (Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross) and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas (Martha Reeves (far right), Rosalyn Ashford, and Betty Kelly) in London, March 1965. Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images.
I was saddened to hear of the loss of Maxine Powell, the legendary Motown etiquette expert. Mrs. Powell died on Monday, October 14th, in Southfield, Michigan at the age of 98. A native of Texarkana, Texas, Mrs. Powell was raised in Chicago and was a student at the Madam CJ Walker School of Beauty Culture. As the founder of the Maxine Powell Finishing and Modeling School, she was asked to bring her school to the burgeoning Motown record label in 1964 by one of her former students, Gwen Gordy, and Esther Gordy Edwards, sisters of Motown founder Berry Gordy. Mrs. Powell coached legends like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations and The Supremes on things like how to get in and out of cars, how to use props on stage and the proper way to greet important guests who visited the backstage after a show. ‘“We worked with developing class,“ she once said. "First, who are you? And, what makes you tick? I helped them to eliminate shyness and get rid of any hang-ups because oftentimes we start with body language, your body language tells so much about you, don’t even have to say a word.’” Diana Ross was one of many Motown legends to issue a statement upon hearing of Mrs. Powell’s death. "Girls growing up in underprivileged areas need to know their worth and their value. I was born in the Brewster housing project and meeting Maxine Powell showed me that there was the possibility of beauty, grace, integrity and meaning to my life. The wisdom she shared with me and all of the young artists at Motown will never be forgotten. She was the true example of a mentor and coach and just someone who cared about us. I also hope to be such an example as I live my life. We will truly truly miss her.”