By 1st Lt. Chris ColemanJanuary 7, 2007
Sgt. 1st Class Alvy Powell's bass-baritone voice inspires standing ovations in the world's elite opera houses, but his most recent high-profile performance allowed him to say goodbye to one of his biggest fans: President Gerald Ford.
Powell performed "On Eagles' Wings" at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Mich. during the funeral service for the former president. It was his final performance for the Ford family, who requested Powell's performance at numerous events since he joined the Army Chorus in 1983.
"I've been singing for the Fords since the early '80s. They'd always request "Old Man River," and [President Ford] was always the first person standing after I'd finish," Powell said.
Powell said that any performance for the former president always included "Old Man River."
"I could sing whatever else I wanted, but I had to include at least [Old Man River]," he said.
Powell joined the Army Chorus in 1983 after graduating from the University of Maryland with a voice degree. He served in the chorus from 1983 until 1993, before taking time off to perform internationally. He rejoined the U.S. Army Chorus in 2001.
According to Lt. Col. John Clanton, U.S. Army Chorus conductor, Ford was such a big fan of Powell that Clanton arranged for Powell to perform for the former president when Powell was a civilian.
"At the rededication of the Ford Library we performed in front of every living president. Each president had one song performed for them, and we brought [Powell] in as a special guest for President Ford. It was the highlight of the show," Clanton said.
According to Clanton, the Ford family requested a Powell solo performance for President Ford one final time.
"There's a real bond between President Ford and the Army Chorus," Clanton said.
Clanton said Powell's performance at the Ford funeral was superb.
"It's what you expect from Alvy Powell. It's the best in the business," he said. "We throw the term 'world class' around a lot, but Alvy really is world class."
Powell said performing at the Ford funeral was "the highest honor a soldier can receive."
Powell is internationally known for his performance of Porgy from George Gershwin's opera "Porgy and Bess." Powell has performed the role of Porgy over 1,100 times including in the New York City Opera production of Porgy and Bess, which was broadcast "Live from Lincoln Center" on PBS and received an Emmy Award nomination for "Best Classical Music Production."
Powell said his 10-year hiatus from the Army provided him an opportunity to make a great deal of money, but he returned to the U.S. Army Chorus because it was "the best job I've ever had."
"There's nothing like going out on stage with the chorus and really singing well. We get back on the bus and just look at each other and say 'Wow.' That's the special part - the camaraderie - it's special," Powell said.