Remembering Maxine Powell: The Motown Master of Manners

Maxine Powell and Smokey RobinsonMaxine Powell with Smokey Robinson

She may have been behind-the-scenes, but Maxine Powell was one of the people responsible for making Motown stars. She didn’t write the music, or teach the choreography – Powell groomed the artists at Motown’s in-house “charm school.” While Berry Gordy Jr. made sure the hits were being produced, Powell was making sure the charm was in check.

From 1964 to 1969, Powell instructed the singers in a mandatory course in propper sitting, standing, eating, dressing, speaking with fans, reporters, etc. It was her job to make sure that when a Motown star stepped out into the public light, they were in tip-top shape with the best manners in town. The former model, actress and proprietor of a top local modeling school is now being remembered after passing away on Monday at the age of 98 years-old.

In 1986, Powell told People Magazine, “There were a million things I taught them, especially stage technique – You never turn your back on the audience. You walk a straight line when you cross the stage. You do not hold the mic so close and open your mouth so wide it looks like you’re going to swallow it.”

Smokey Robinson said about Powell, “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,” Robinson said. “Two days a week when you were back in Detroit you had to go to artists’ development. It was mandatory. You went there and learned so many things about being in show businesses. — She was such an important, integral part of what we were doing here at Motown,”

From the Supremes to the Temptations, the Marvelettes and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Maxine Powell has left her mark in the way that they walked and the way that they talked.

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