Bibliographic References

to Ollie L. Powers

listed by the approximate year(s) the events occurred



In his well-researched book on Chicago Jazz, William Howland Kenney turns up several references to Ollie Powers’ activities in the early years:

    “. . . Thomas McCain’s Pompeii buffet and cafe at 20-22 East 31st Street, at the 31st Street elevated station, and Dago and Russell’s Elmwood Cafe presented such leading musical entertainers as Tony Jackson, Ferd “Jelly Roll” Morton, drummer Manzie Campbell, and the highly regarded tenor vocalist and drummer Ollie Powers.  . . . the Elmwood attracted attention for its late Sunday afternon concerts and Tuesday matinees, both managed by Ollie Powers. Even when owned by whites, clubs like these encouraged black musicians and entertainers who were ‘...closed-out of even middle-level vaudeville and theater work.’”

—from Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History 1904-1930, by William Howland Kenney (Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 9


ca. 1914

Shep Allen was an agent who recalled his days in Chicago booking entertainers for the various clubs. He spoke of Ollie Powers performing at a club known as the Panama Café:

    “I went to the Panama Café located at 35th and State. There I organized the Panama Trio, composed of the late Florence Mills, the famous Ada “Bricktop” Smith who is now in Italy, and Cora Green.  The pianist for the trio was Glover Compton and the drummer was Ollie Powers. In all probability Powers was the greatest of the tenor singers of that day. The Panama Café was closed because of a murder. A fellow known all along The Stroll as “Curley” stabbed another man in a fight in front of the bar. This incident resulted in the closing of the Panama. . . .”

—from The Shep Allen Story, essay by George W. Kay, on the Internet at



   “At about the same time that [Teenan] Jones opened his Elite No. 2, Frank Preer and William Bottoms, with the assistance of Virgil Williams, opened the Deluxe Cafe at 3503 South State Street. Sometimes mentioned in the press as the Leluxe, this cabaret featured vocalists Lucille Hegamin and Ollie Powers and strove to establish a reputation as a morally upright establishment where fighting was prohibited.”

—Kenney, p. 10


ca. 1918–1919

Songwriter, booking agent and promoter Harrison Smith wrote the following for Record Research, a small, unbound, typewritten “magazine of record statistics and information” in June, 1955.

    “***Reminiscing with Harrison Smith: ‘Jolly Ollie’ Powers

    “In 1919, my pal, Shelton Brooks introduced me to his new partner, Ollie Powers, during their engagement at Loew’s Fulton Theatre, Brooklyn, N.Y. They ranked as one of vaudeville’s greatest comedy teams and their billing was ‘2 Dark Clouds of Joy’. Both worked with blackface cork. For 15 minutes they joked, mugged and clowned. Brooks, at the piano, played all of his famous song hits. Powers, a great tenor, who looked and was built like ‘Fats’ Waller, wowed ‘em with his comic-version of the aria from  ‘Pagliacci’ and ‘For You A Rose’ or as an alternative ‘A Fool And A Butterfly’ . . Audiences were amazed at his agility in bouncing around on a stage. To close the act they took off on Brooks’ ‘Strutters Ball’ with Brooks dancing and Powers trailing him—tearing up a trap drum. The tune was such a hit then that Feist paid Rossiter [the] original publisher 10 Grand for it. I spent many happy delightful hours with these boys in many cities.

    “Powers was a native of Louisville Kentucky and grew up with Fess Williams and Jack Carter, the latter who made jazz history in the Orient with Valaida Snow and Teddy Weatherford. He was a great favorite in Chicago night spots and made Okeh and Paramount records.

    “In 1927, it was my plan to have the boys cut some records for Gennett but Brooks was too late for the date on account of early Saturday closing time, hence we’re out of luck now, since we can’t hear Powers vocalize ‘A Fool And A Butterfly’ and other fine ballads. Before I could set another date Powers was killed when his Desota was ditched near Buffalo N.Y. . . .”

—from Record Research (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Vol 1. No. 3, June 1955, p. 19

NOTE: According to Brian Rust’s “Jazz Records 1897-1942,” Powers and Brooks recorded “A Fool and a Butterfly” and “After All These Years” in New York, for Columbia, on Jan. 14, 1925. The resulting sides were rejected by Columbia, however, and it is not clear from the above whether Harrison Smith knew of this earlier attempt. Also, the automobile accicent to which Mr. Smith refers may have happened, but Ollie Powers was not killed in it. He died on April 14, 1928, and his obituary in the Chicago Defender mentions an illness of three weeks, and the obituary in the Pittsburgh Courier stated the cause of death as “diabetes mellitus.”

Another uncertainty arises concerning the dates that Ollie Powers worked with Shelton Brooks, since the account in the Chicago Defender obituary differs from Harrison Smith’s, above. In support of Harrison Smith’s dates, an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times dated March 10, 1918, promotes an appearance in the Pantages Theater by Brooks and Powers, “Comedians and Singers”, under a title of “A Little Noise From Dixieland”. (Thanks to Bill Egan of Canberra, Australia, for this info!) Finally, there did exist a car called a Desota that was manufactured by the Zimmerman Manufacturing Company of Auburn, IN, which predates the better-known Chrysler DeSoto (thanks to Richard Peterson for this information!).

—RECORDING INFO: Brian Rust: Jazz Records 1897–1942, 4th ed. (New Rochelle, Arlington House, 1978), p. 1245
—OBITUARIES: Chicago Defender, April 28, 1928, part 1, p. 3; Pittsburgh Courier, Apr. 21, 1928


ca. 1924

Lil Hardin Armstrong, jazz pianist and wife of famed trumpet/cornet player and vocalist Louis Armstrong, told about the period of time after Louis Armstrong had left King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band in Chicago, where he was second trumpet, to advance his career as a soloist.

    “Louis asked, ‘You made me quit--now what you want me to do?’ I said ‘Just go on out, round the musicians, find out who needs a first trumpet-player.’  . . . I heard that Ollie Powers was putting a band in Dreamland, and Louis went there and Ollie said ‘Yes, come on, sit there and play with us.’ So Louis played and Ollie liked him and he hired him . . .  he rehearsed and opened up with the band and they did very well. Because when Louis was the only trumpet-player he played what he had in himself.”

—from Louis: The Louis Armstrong Story, 1900-1971, by Max Jones and John Chilton (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1971), p.78

Louis Armstrong referred to Ollie Powers as “a great friend to me and a fine entertainer.”

—Jones and Chilton , p.92


ca. 1926–1928

Chicago jazz musician Bud Freeman wrote this recollection of hearing a group that included Ollie Powers, at a club called the Apex:

    “After the Sunset closed at 3 A.M. we would go across the street to the Apex Club. That is when its music started. The Apex was small, but it too had a floor show. The band was led by Jimmie Noone, one of the finest clarinet players in Chicago. He was from New Orleans. His quartet had Earl Hines and a drummer named Ollie Powers, who was a table singer. Ollie would get up from the drums and go from table to table singing in this wonderful voice. The fourth musician was King Oliver’s old guitarist, Johnny St. Cyr. What a band!”

—from Crazeology: The Autobiography of a Chicago Jazzman by Bud Freeman as told to Robert Wolf (University of Illinois Press, 1989), pp. 14–15

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