LifeNotes: Celebrated Photographer Hope Powell Passes

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Photographer Hope Powell with Dolly Parton.

Hope Powell, the doyenne of Nashville’s celebrity photographers, has died at age 90.

She was one of the first photographers, male or female, to forge a freelance career by shooting pictures of the city’s country stars. Hope Powell’s photographs became iconic images for such performers as Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Larry Gatlin, Donna Fargo, Charlie Rich, Alabama, Tanya Tucker and hundreds of others.

Powell’s photography won her a 1974 Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association for her LP jacket of The Blackwood Brothers On Stage. She was a 2007 SOURCE honoree for being a ground-breaking female force in the Nashville music industry.

She was also a songwriter, a poet and a singer who performed in the Christ Church Choir. The group backed Parton on the 1989 CMA Awards singing “He’s Alive” and also sang with Bill Gaither, Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks, Steven Curtis Chapman, Vestal Goodman, The Judds, Carman, Glen Campbell and other entertainers, as well as recording several albums of its own.

Born Sept. 14, 1923, Clarice Hope Goodman Powell was a native of Salisbury, N.C., where she began her photography career. As a teenager, Powell worked in an honorary press corps in Europe, where she photographed The Pope and Queen Elizabeth, among others. She then ran her own studio in Salisbury in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her first photography encounter with show business was Hollywood blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield. During a local nightclub appearance, Powell followed the star into the audience. As Mansfield sat in men’s laps, Powell would take photos, then try to sell prints to the men.

She moved to Atlanta in 1968. Her initial clients there were nightclub belly dancers.

The photographer became more interested in the visiting country-music stars at a club called Mama’s Playroom. She was soon a familiar face to artists such as Conway Twitty, Faron Young, Hank Williams Jr., Jim Ed Brown and Loretta Lynn. This led to her move to Music City in 1970.

For decades, she covered the annual performance-rights banquets, the CMA Awards, the disc jockey conventions, various syndicated TV-show tapings and productions of Hee Haw.

Among her most memorable album covers are those for Parton’s 1974 LP Jolene and 1976 LP All I Can Do, Twitty’s 1983 LP Classic Conway, Tom T. Hall’s 1978 album Places I’ve Done Time, Porter Wagoner’s 1979 album Porter, the 2004 Vern Gosdin collection Back in the Swing of Things and the 1985 Willie Nelson/Hank Snow package Brand on My Heart. Her work is featured in such Time-Life publications as Classic Country (2001) and Legends of Classic Country (2000).

In addition to virtually every country star, her subjects included George Burns, Lucille Ball, Richard Nixon, Alex Haley, Arnold Palmer, Mickey Mantel, NASCAR drivers, Jimmy Carter, George Wallace and Billy Graham.

Hope Powell was as colorful and idiosyncratic as many of the artists she photographed. Her business card read, “If Hope can’t do it, it’s Hopeless.” She was also frequently as glamorous as a star, invariably attending functions to shoot while dressed in finery.

She continued to work when she was well into her 80s. Powell was the official photographer of the annual International Fan Club Organization (IFCO) shows during her elder years. She documented 38 consecutive IFCO concerts.

She was twice divorced and had no children. Hope Powell’s mother, Carrie Clontz Goodman, was a country singer who performed as “Betty Lou Demara.” She recorded with Hartman’s Heartbreakers for RCA’s Bluebird Records in Charlotte in 1936-37.

Powell was predeceased by her parents Ernest and Carrie Goodman, by brother Odell and sisters Corrine and Gladys. She died shortly after 1 a.m. on the morning of July 3 at the home of Marvin and Debbie Hampton. According to friend and caregiver Genevieve Cloud, Powell had lung cancer and wished to be cremated.

A memorial service is being planned.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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