From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Powers, Oliver "Ollie"

(born: October 11, 1887  -  died: April 14, 1928) Oliver Powers, known as "Ollie Powers," was a singer, drummer, vaudeville and minstrel actor, and band director. He was born on October 11, 1887, in Louisville, KY [source: World War I Draft Registration Card, Ancestry]. In 1900, his family lived at 114 Walnut Street, according to the U.S. Census.

Ollie Powers is listed in the Louisville city directories working as a laborer in 1907-1909. In 1910, he was a member of the Falls City Quartet  along with John Goodloe, Walter Tinsley, and Keaton Irwin [source: "The Stage" in The Freeman newspaper, 11/26/1904, p. 2]. On one of the more rare occasions, he is identified by his first name on p. 927 in Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1910; Oliver Powers was a musician at the Grand Theatre.

Ollie Powers was living in Chicago, IL at 3553 Vernon Avenue when he completed his draft registration card on June 5, 1917. He had been in Chicago as early as 1910 when he was a singer in John Ruckers' new company, the Down in Dixie Minstrels [source: Blacks in Blackface by H. T. Sampson; and The African American Theatre Directory, 1816-1960]. In 1913, he was the manager of the Elwood Cabaret cafe.

By 1915, Ollie Powers was singing at The De Luxe, a cafe at 3503 State Street in Chicago, and known as "The Sweetest Tenor in the West" [source: "Miss Bessie La Belle at the De Luxe," Freeman, 3/06/1915, p. 1]. His band, Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators, featuring his wife Jeanette on vocals, was the house band at Vendome Theater in Chicago in 1920.

In addition to singing, in 1920 Ollie Powers was a character actor in the play "September Morn." Arthur Gillespie produced the play with music written by Aubrey Stauffer [source: Library of Congress, Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 3, Musical Compositions, 1913 New Series, vol. 8, no. 11]. In October of 1920, Ollie Powers was in New York at The Lafayette Theatre performing in the musical "Canary Cottage" [source: "The Lafayette Theatre," New York Age, 10/16/1920, p. 6]. The play had had a long run at the Avenue Theatre in Chicago, and after a run in New York, the play moved to the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. [source: "Howard Theatre," Washington Bee, 11/6/1920, p. 5].

In 1923, the Ollie Powers' Harmony Syncopators recorded "Jazzbo Jenkins" and "Play That Thing" on Paramount Records. For a brief period, Louis Armstrong had been a member of the band [source: Satchmo: the Louis Armstrong Encyclopedia, by M. Meckna]. Ollie Powers was at the peak of his career when he died in Chicago on April 14, 1928 [source: Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths Index, Ancestry]. He is buried in Lincoln Cemetery. Ollie Powers was the son of Tisobie(?) Brown and Josh Powers. [His mother's name is not written clearly in the 1900 U.S. Census.]

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“Powers, Oliver "Ollie",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed May 22, 2024,

Last modified: 2022-08-26 18:37:52