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Maxine Powell, mentor to Motown stars, dies at 98

By Kevin Wang, CNN
October 15, 2013 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Motown mentor Maxine Powell played an influential role in nurturing its future stars including The Supremes.
Motown mentor Maxine Powell played an influential role in nurturing its future stars including The Supremes.
  • NEW: Smokey Robinson: "Evidence of her will live on through all of the Motown family"
  • Maxine Powell was one of Motown's first personal development coaches
  • Young Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye were among her stable of stars
  • Motown: "She brought something to Motown that no other record company had"

(CNN) -- Maxine Powell, the mentor behind the smooth success and individual charm of Motown Records' stars for almost five decades, died Monday, the Detroit Free Press reported. She was 98.

Powell, who started as a personal development coach with Motown in 1964, was known for teaching Motown artists how to walk, talk and even think with class. She played an influential role in nurturing its future stars including Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye by giving them lessons in media relations and proper manners.

Mary Wilson, an original member of Motown's Supremes, quoted Powell as saying, "One day, you may be performing before kings and queens."

"And we actually did," Wilson said in a 2002 interview with CNN. "But it was because they taught us how to sit, you know, to talk, and all of these kinds of things."

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In a statement Monday, Motown founder Berry Gordy said Powell was tough, but "poised, professional, and very thankful" as she worked with artists.

Gordy's statement quoted Powell as telling the young artists: "I love you all, but don't confuse me with your mother -- she's stuck with you, I'm not!"

"Ladies, remember your gloves, walk with class like you were taught -- and always remember, do not protrude the buttocks."

"She brought something to Motown that no other record company had. She was a star in her own right -- an original," Gordy's statement added.

Singer-songwriter and producer Smokey Robinson also paid tribute to Maxine Powell's contribution.

"She led and lived a long wonderful life. I just saw her a couple of weeks ago and she was very mentally sharp. She was an essential part of Motown," he said in a statement.

"We all loved her and she will be truly missed, but the evidence of her will live on and on through all of the Motown family."

Powell was one of Detroit-based Motown's first personal development coaches along with Maurice King and Cholly Atkins, according to the company's website.

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CNN's Denise Quan contributed to this report.

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