Charles “Cholly” Atkins was an American dancer and vaudeville performer, who later became noted as the house choreographer for the various artists on the Motown label.
Born Charles Sylvan Atkinson, a native of Pratt City, Alabama, Atkins first found fame as one-half of a top vaudeville tap dancing act with partner Charles "Honi" Coles. After working as a freelance choreographer for The Miracles, Atkins was hired by Berry Gordy to work as a Motown choreographer in 1964, and set about developing the routines that would later become the trademark moves of other Motown acts like The Supremes, The Temptations (Atkins was also featured in the video for their hit single "Lady Soul"), The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & The Pips and others. Atkins would, in fact, continue working with Motown artists well into the 1980s. He choreographed for non-Motown artists as well, namely the dance routines of The Cadillacs in the 1950s, and the Sylvers and The O'Jays during the mid-1970s.
In 1989, Atkins received a Tony Award for choreographing the Broadway show Black and Blue. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2003, Atkins died of the cancer several weeks later on April 19, 2003 Las Vegas, Nevada at 89.
Ms. Maxine Powell came to Motown records in 1964. She was the first lady of the “Artist Development Department” at Motown Records. Before coming to Motown records, she had her own school where she taught young ladies of that era, including Berry Gordy’s sisters. Ms. Powell taught most of the artists at Motown, such as The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, as well as the male groups. Maxine Powell and Cholly Atkins, along with Maurice King and Harvey Fuqua , taught us poise, choreography and harmony. They motivated us as well. As a Supreme, I recall Ms. Powell telling us, “You are diamonds in the rough, and we are just here to polish you”. I always loved her for that because she gave us credit for who we were as individuals. She did not take away our dignity but gave us knowledge of who we were as human beings. I also recall her saying, “One day you will be singing for Kings and Queens”. We all laughed at that, since it seemed to be an impossible dream to teenagers who were living in the projects in the sixties. I am sure you know the Supremes’ story; Ms. Powell was right.
Chicago, Illinois is Ms. Powell’s hometown. She says it was her aunt who taught her about class when she was a very young child. By her own admission, she was a hand-full, constantly asking questions about everything. She was very curious and it often warranted her aunt to admonish her, but with words of wisdom and kindness. Ms. Powell said her aunt would tell her to speak softly and be kind. She was told in a gentle manner that unless she learned this lesson early in life, there was a chance she would end up becoming self-centered.
At the early age of 14, Ms. Powell would watch people and their behavior. She developed a technique of studying people. When she was once asked how she was able to teach black people class, her answer was, “I teach and work with human beings. It is the cast system, someone or the environment that conditions certain people, but we are all born the same. “
Ms. Powell’s career did not end after her years at Motown Records. She went on to teach at the Culture Center at Wayne State University for 13 years. People from all over the world come to hear her motivational discussions. When Martha Reeves was on the City Council in Detroit, Michigan, Ms. Powell was her right hand through-out Reeve’s tenure.
I sincerely thank-you Ms. Powell for motivating me and for showing me how to live my life with class.
Ms. Mary Wilson