The Soundcheck, January 2012
Jane Powell, Star City Diva
By J. Gabrielle
Mac Daddy and I are at one of our favorite Wednesday night rituals; Blues BBQ with the Elmer Coles Funktet. However, tonight the one and only Jane Powell takes the stage instead filling in for Coles. Ms. Powell usually can be seen only at the Greenbrier, performing with the Roanoke Symphony or the occasional Hotel Roanoke gig. Tonight’s event went unadvertised, yet the word got out anyway. The tiny venue is packed even more than usual, standing room only to catch a glimpse of the self-proclaimed “Chocolate Goddess of Love”.
The band is on break, and as always, Ms. Powell graciously entertains her fans one on one. I am one of them. We catch a “real” moment together and I confess to her a wounded heart and recount a resulting hopelessly floundering moment onstage. She says, “I know JUST what you mean, I have been there!” And I believe her, for she goes back in the next set with a soulful version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and I accept it as a gift. I cry anyway. But, it is a good, short weeping full of forgiveness for myself. Now, she is not only “The Diva”, but “The Medicine Woman” too.
I have been following Jane Powell for a year now at different venues in Roanoke. In hotel lounges and nightclubs, she always elevates her audience to a bigger venue with brighter lights. At the Elephant Walk Lounge we are whisked away to an elegant cruise ship. All of us, from many ports of call, are united in song as she sashes the room giving turns at the mic to sing “Hey! Hey! The Blues are Alright!”. With the wireless mic, Jane can get to everyone and mess with ‘em, just a little. On one such night, quintessential “mess with ‘em” artist Kelly Mullen is at my side. He guffaws at a particularly naughty exchange Powell has with an audience member and shakes his head in admiration. “Wow!, he says, “She’s the Master!”
With her five octave range, Jane Powell is foremost the master of song. Her seemingly endless song list includes gospel, R&B, show tunes and Christmas songs. A typical set includes The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, The Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”, Roberta Flack’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”. The latter reveals her amazing ability to whistle in what must also be five octaves! Her rendition of “Amazing Grace” garnered her a standing ovation on a cruise ship chartered by Oprah Winfrey just last year.
Jane Powell has toured internationally on cruise ships, elegant symphony houses and college campuses. She has opened for and worked with Lou Rawls, Joan Jett, Koko Taylor, B.J. Thomas and Ray Charles. The Charles concert was reviewed by The Washington Post which declared she “stole the night from a legend”! The National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) has voted her the winner of the Jazz Artist of the Year and the Performing Arts/Music Award so many times she remains the most awarded performer in the history of the organization. Jane has performed for a McDonald’s commercial. You can see her in the 1999 movie “The Bachelor” with Renee Zellweger and in the Dino DeLaurentis film “Marie”. Powell has even performed for Queen Elizabeth II during a Royal Visit to Virginia.
With all of this stellar success one might expect a stellar ego to go along. Instead, Jane Powell has a self-deprecating sense of humor, a ready, hearty laugh and a warmth for her fans and fellow musicians. In July, she performed for “Jazz in July” at Longwood Park in her native Salem. I ran into her in the parking lot high above and behind the stage and listened as the attendant gave her directions on how to walk down to the stage area. Jane seemed ready to make the trek, but I butted in asking instead for a call on the radio for a golf cart. Jane Powell seemed almost uncomfortable with the “fuss”.
If you haven’t enjoyed this Roanoke treasure, please do. I have been thoroughly entertained, have learned so very much and as an entertainer myself, been humbled.
When she is not entertaining the masses, Jane Powell is a sterling silver jewelry expert at www.mysilpada.com/jane.powell.