Motown charm school instructor Maxine Powell dies aged 98

Powell coached all of the record label's young stars, including The Supremes and Marvin Gaye

Motown Record’s finishing school coach, Maxine Powell, has died at the age of 98.

Powell passed away yesterday (October 14) at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan. A Motown Museum spokeswoman said that the record label’s former employee was “peacefully surrounded by Motown family and close friends”. The Detroit Free Press reports that Powell had been in ill health since a fall in May of this year and fell into a coma over the weekend.

Born in Texas in May 1915, Maxine Powell worked as a model and a manicurist and studied dance before she was taken on by Motown in 1964. It was her job to help coach the label’s young talent into becoming stars. She worked with artists such as The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves and Marvin Gaye on diction, posture and stage presence. In a statement released yesterday, the label’s founder Berry Gordy said: “She brought something to Motown that no other record company had. She was a star in her own right — an original.”

Mary Wilson of The Supremes revealed that she spoke to Powell on the phone on Saturday when her old friend was in the coma. “I thanked her so much for making me the person I am today, for helping me understand the grace that was given to me. I told her, ‘Everywhere I go, you’re with me’,” said Wilson.

A memorial service will be held on Friday (October 18) at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit.