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Powell (Gordon Specs) Photograph Collection
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  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Processing Information

  • Contributing Institution: Special Collections & Archives
    Title: Gordon Specs Powell Photograph Collection
    Identifier/Call Number: TBC.GSP
    Physical Description: 1.2 linear feet
    Date (inclusive): 1966-2001
    Abstract: Gordon Specs Powell was a jazz musician who was hired as the first African American orchestra staff for the CBS network. Powell performed with such jazz luminaries as Billie Holiday, John Kirby, and Red Norvo during the height of the 52nd Street music scene in New York. Later in life, he retired and moved to Southern California, where he continued to pursue his interests in the arts, including photography. This small collection spans the years 1966 to 2001, with most materials created in the 1980s and the 1990s. The majority of the materials are negatives, prints, and contact sheets. Powell's professional portraits, Southern California events and music, and the sculpture of Tina Allen are prominently featured in this collection.
    Language of Material: English

    Biographical / Historical

    Gordon Specs Powell was born in 1922 in New York, New York. Powell gained fame as a drummer playing multiple jazz clubs in the heyday of New York's 52nd Street. During his music career, he performed as a drummer or percussionist alongside such notable jazz musicians as Billie Holiday, Red Norvo, John Kirby, and Edgar Hayes. In 1943, the CBS network hired Powell as the first African American orchestra member on staff. At the network, he performed first on radio for such shows as The Raymond Scott Show and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, and then on television for such shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, and Candid Camera for almost 30 years. During World War II and his union's strike at CBS, Powell often appeared with Benny Goodman and other musicians on V Discs (Victory Discs) recordings, which were produced and sent overseas by the United States government to their troops for the purpose of boosting morale. Powell's distinguishable musical traits during his performances were his noisemaker kit, which typically included items such as castanets and clickers, and his bongo bracket, which helped him quickly transition between instruments without changing position.
    In the early 1970s, Powell retired from the music business and moved to the Virgin Islands with his wife, Peggy. In 1979, they relocated to Los Angeles, and then later to San Diego. In Los Angeles, Powell had a photography studio for a short period of time. Between 1992 to 2000, he and Peggy operated a frozen yogurt shop in San Diego. In 2007, he died from complications of kidney disease.

    Scope and Contents

    The Gordon Specs Powell Photograph Collection consists of portraits and images of Southern California events, music, and sculpture created by artist Tina Allen, Powell's daughter. The subjects of Powell's portraits include his clients and acquaintances, most of whom are African American. Some of the portraits were created at Powell's Los Angeles studio at the address of 8726 South Sepulveda Boulevard. The photographs were mostly taken during the 1980s and 1990s, and the collection covers the time period from 1966 to 2001. Materials include negatives, prints, contact sheets, and newspaper clippings. There are approximately 2,500 images in the collection.
    This small collection showcases the lesser-known professional and personal photographic output of Powell, who has been most recognized for his musical talent. The events documented show his ties to Southern California, where he lived in Los Angeles and Escondido after retiring in 1974. Although the collection lacks images of his music career from the 1940s to the 1970s, it does include some photographs of musicians and festivals in the region. Another highlighted subject is Tina Powell. Powell's sustained interest in Tina Allen's sculpture is evident in the images and articles collected on the artist from the time of her artistic beginnings to the peak of her career.
    Collection folders are arranged alphabetically by title. Main subject is listed first in the title. Negatives and smaller prints have been separated physically. Some negatives have corresponding prints because they came from the same roll of film, and thus they share the same title. The titles are marked with "Negatives" or "Prints" to specify the main format of the materials in each folder. For corresponding negatives and prints from the same batch, there may be more negatives than prints or more prints than negatives. Some negatives have corresponding contact sheets that have been placed right after the negatives in the same folder.
    Events folders consist of photographs of events in Southern California, and include such events as parades, visits to local attractions, and ceremonies. Notable figures photographed include Tom Bradley.
    Family folders consist of Powell's personal family photographs.
    Music folders consist of photographs of performances, festivals, concerts, and musicians mostly relating to jazz, Latin, percussion, and big band music. Notable figures photographed include saxophonist James Moody, Max Roach, and the Frankie Capp Orchestra.
    Portraits folders consist of studio and non-studio portraits of individuals, couples, families, and weddings, as well as Powell's studio administrative records in the form of orders, notations, and receipts.
    Sculpture by Tina Allen folders consist of photographs of various sculptures created by Tina Allen and of Tina Allen herself, and a couple of newspaper clippings on the artist during her high school years.

    Conditions Governing Access

    This collection is open for research use.

    Conditions Governing Use

    Copyright for unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection has been transferred to California State University, Northridge. Copyright status for other materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

    Preferred Citation

    For information about citing items in this collection, consult the appropriate style manual, or see the Citing Archival Materials  guide.

    Processing Information

    Elizabeth Peattie, 2022

    Subjects and Indexing Terms