How To Turn the Heads of Kings and Queens
Not just anyone can teach the Supremes how to dance with class. Maxine Powell, who passed away this past Monday at the age of 98, was just that someone. Powell, who was the director of Motown’s Artist Development Department in the 1960s — also known as an in-house finishing school — had pupils such as the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson under her tutelage. It was her job to teach her pupils poise and grace.
“ ‘You are protruding the buttocks,’ ” she admonished them. “ ‘Whenever you do a naughty step like the shake, add some class to it. Instead of shaking and acting tough, you should roll your buttocks under and keep smiling all the time.’ Then I showed them. They were shocked that I could do it and at how much better it looked my way.”
Regardless of how popular or accomplished the artist, when in Detroit all of Motown’s stars had to attend Powell’s instruction for media relations and proper manners for two days a week. She taught Marvin Gaye to sing with his eyes open, Diana Ross to sit up straight, and she was a mean bartender. Her combined instruction, she explained, was to prepare the musicians for two big events: an invitation to the White House or Buckingham Palace.
Powell’s in-house finishing school was the only one of its kind. It’s a shame we don’t have such things for artists these days. Miley and Ke$sha, we’re looking at you.
[Photo credit: Tony Ding/Associated Press]
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