The Voice of a Movement: An Interview with George Powell

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“I was amazed..deeply fulfilled, and satisfied that I was able to provide a small creative element, among many, to the honoring of George Floyd’s life and the Black Lives Matter Movement.”

As the murder of George Floyd garnered global attention, protests and outrage was seen all over the world. Writers took to their laptops writing essays, think pieces, and poetry to relay their dissatisfaction and call for change. Politicians gathered and began thinking through new bills and legislation to truly change police brutality and advocate against the use of excessive force. Pastors preached sermons, organizers marched, and artists painted murals on walls and even created caricatures online that have spread all over social media. One man decided he’d use his voice.

George Powell’s Tribute to George Floyd

George Powell is a singer and songwriter based in Austin, Texas whose musical tribute to George Floyd went viral. Inspired by Sam Cooke’s iconic song “A Change Is Gonna’ Come,” Powell adapted the words of the song to George Floyd’s life. He says, “As I began trying to sing it, I sang the first line ‘I was born by the river,’ but with George Floyd on my mind I wondered where he was born. And so I took some time to do some research [on] where he was born and then the idea to adapt the lyrics to tell his story came to me and the rest is history.” This powerful musical tribute to date has 2.4 million views, 85 thousand shares, 25 thousand reactions, and 4 thousand comments.

His emotive tenor vocals tug on your heart as you watch images of George Floyd’s arrest, death, family, and the subsequent protests that resulted. Powell told us it took a couple of days, but after rewriting the lyrics and producing the video images he recorded himself in the studio and began to edit. “Mike Bereal produced the music, multiple Grammy Award winner, John Jaszcz was the audio mixer, and Ken Love mastered it. Bradford Roland was involved as the creative assistant,” he told us. It’s such a powerful rendition we had to include the full video right here for you to watch. Check it out!

A Tribute to John Lewis

Only a month later the country found itself mourning the life and legacy of Congressman John Lewis. A survivor of immense racial violence, freedom fighter, and dedicated politician working to make legislative change for Blacks in America, Congressman John Lewis was an inspiration to us all. And especially George Powell. He went into the studio again to create a tribute for the giant using his voice to express the grief and appreciation of many across this country. Powell said, “to me, Congressman Lewis was the epitome of bravery, courage and sacrifice and was an iconic leader of the Civil Rights Movement.”

He continued, sharing with us that he “produced a video to honor him because his life spanned such a pivotal time in American history. Through marching, advocating, voting, representing his district and fighting for change, he made an undeniable and indelible impression upon American history. The images and footage of his life’s work are so powerful and impacting! I wanted to tell his story through music and video.” And Powell does just that covering John Legend’s iconic song, “Glory.” Circulating on the internet for about three weeks now, this tribute now has over 137 thousands views, 1700 reactions, 228 comments, and 4600 shares. In other words, when George Powell sings for the movement, people stop and listen.

Whether singing in church or singing to inspire change, George Powell is a voice for the movements and the moments of our time. I asked George if he believed music was important to social justice and declared emphatically, “music is very important! In the ‘60s, there were songs like “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown and so many more. Some of the contemporary songs of the movement are “Where is The Love” by The Black Eyed Peas, “Freedom” by Beyonce and “Glory” by John Legend & Common.” It is these songs and others that give life, emotion, and rhythm to the Black movements in America. And George Powell is walking in this very tradition committed to giving voice and rhythm to our movements.

The Story Behind the Voice

George was first introduced to Gospel music at a home daycare where he subsequently led out his first song with the children’s choir at the age of 7. By the time he was in the fourth grade, Powell learned how to play Bill Withers “Lean on Me” and played it for his music class every chance he got. His love for music and piano only grew. In fact, it was at church watching the organist play that he says he became “mesmerized” by her ability to read music, play with her hands, and play with her feet. Young George went right up to the organist and boldly told her that “I was going to learn how to play the organ just like her.”

Dedicated to becoming proficient in both the piano and the organ, Powell worked hard to earn money to pay for his first piano. In the fifth grade, he told us, he “saved up enough money to buy half of a piano from a newspaper ad and my dad matched the other half.” That Summer, he met Felicia Ballard, a relative of his next door neighbor. A tremendous pianist in her own right, Powell would go by every day for an hour to get piano lessons from her. She was his first formal piano instructor teaching him how to read music and play hymns by the end of the summer.

George Powell singing at age 8. Photo provided by George Powell.

Powell’s love of music subsequently turned into both his passion and his profession, as he graduated from Houston-Tillotson University with his Bachelors Degree in Music Performance. But his path also led him into deeper truth spiritually. In fact, as a young musician growing as a professional, Powell was invited by Pastor Shelton-Kilby of the Alpha Seventh-day Adventist Church in Austin Texas. There, he served as the church organist, choir director and minister of music for over 20 years.

While serving there under the pastoral leadership of Pastor Gordon Jones Powell became an Adventist. He told us that it was “years of exposure and Bible studies” that caused him to join Alpha SDA, and ultimately come to believe that “the SDA church is the most biblically consistent theology in the world.” Today, Powell serves full-time as the Pastor of Worship at Fallbrook Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and a part-time Worship Leader at World Harvest Outreach SDA Church in Houston, Texas.

Music for Powell is more than just a profession or a passion. It’s the means by which people are inspired, hearts are changed, and communities are healed. I asked him, if he could imagine the perfect, most glorious outcome or impact that his music could have on the world, what would it be?” Powell said, “I would like my music to honor God and inspire people! If I can represent God through my music and inspire others to honor God, fight for change and to stand for what they believe in, then I would say my singing has not been in vain!”

George your singing has not been in vain, and it is clear that the spirit of God is upon you for such a time as this. Our prayer here at Message is that you continue to be God’s voice for His movements and moments in time.

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