A Guide to the Papers of John Powell, 1888-1978, n.d. Powell, John, Papers 7284, 7284-a

A Guide to the Papers of John Powell, 1888-1978, n.d.

A Collection in
Special Collections
The University of Virginia Library
Accession Number 7284, 7284-a


Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4110
Phone: (434) 243-1776
Fax: (434) 924-4968
Reference Request Form: https://small.lib.virginia.edu/reference-request/
URL: http://small.library.virginia.edu/

© 2013 By the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. All rights reserved.

Processed by: Special Collections Staff

Special Collections, University of Virginia Library
Accession Number
7284, 7284-a
Papers of John Powell
Physical Characteristics

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

There are no restrictions.

Use Restrictions

John Powell's copyright was transferred to the University of Virginia upon the dissolution of The John Powell Foundation. Licensing of public performances of Powell's works is controlled by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP).

Preferred Citation

Papers of John Powell, 1888-1978, n.d., Accession #7284, 7284-a, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.

Acquisition Information

This collection was received in two groups as a deposit through Dr. Ernest C. Mead, of Charlottesville, Virginia. The first part (#7284) was accessioned on September 4, 1963; the second (#7284-a) was accessioned on September 13,1963. Both accessions were made a gift by the owners, Elizabeth and Rebecca Brockenbrough, effective December 31, 1965.

Biographical/Historical Information

John Henry Powell was a world-renowned pianist and composer who was born in Richmond, Virginia on September 6, 1882. He was reported to be singing alto parts as a baby and writing compositions at age four. He studied music under F. C. Hahr and after graduating from the University of Virginia in 1901, he went to Berlin to study under Theodor Leschetizky. His professional debut as a pianist was in Vienna in 1906 and he spent the next eight years performing in Europe. His first American tour was in 1916. He also performed on a European tour with Walter Damrosch and the New York Symphony Orchestra, playing his own composition, "Rhapsodie Negre" in 1920. He spent fifteen years composing his magnum opus, "Symphony in A" which was successfully performed in 1947. He went on a European and British tour that was supported by the United States government in an effort to improve relations with Great Britain. He was managed by the National Broadcasting Artist’s Service in New York. He taught music at Denver College and was president of the Virginia Music Federation. He was an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa, Societe Astronomique De France, and the American Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1928 he married Louise Burleigh (1890-1961), a playwright and artist in her own right.

Some of Powell’s musical works include "Sonata Virginianesque", "Sonata A Flat", "Sonate Noble", "Rhapsodie Negre", "Natchez-On-the Hill", "Variations and Double-Fuge", and "Overture: In Old Virginia". His folksongs include "At the Fair", "Hoochee-Coochee Dance", "Circassian Beauty", "Merry-go-round", "Clowns", "Snake-Charmer", "Banjo-Picker", "In the Hammock", "Dirge", "From a Loved Past", and "In the South."

Powell was passionate about the preservation of folk music that he considered to be “Anglo Saxon.” He uncovered folk songs and ballads and played them in concerts so that more people could enjoy the music and its history.

Powell is also well known for his work in eugenics which began in the early 1920s. He supported racial integrity legislation that passed the General Assembly of Virginia in 1926. He proposed amendments to the legislation and encouraged other states to follow Virginia’s laws as a model to prevent “mongolization” of the white race. He worked closely with Earnest Sevier Cox, Madison Grant, Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, Lothrop Stoddard, H. Norton Mason, Marcus Garvey, and promoted the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America in an effort to preserve the white race in America. He also edited the writings of his colleagues and had a close relationship with The Richmond-Times Dispatch. He was considered by many to be “the founding father of racial integrity legislation” in Virginia.

John Powell died in Richmond, Virginia in 1963.

Scope and Content

The papers consist chiefly of the correspondence of John Powell, a world-renowned pianist and composer who lived in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia from his birth in 1882 until his death in 1963. The collection consists of ca.15,025 items, 45 Hollinger boxes, and 225 linear feet. The correspondence includes letters to John and his wife, Louise Burleigh Powell from 1908 to 1963. There are personal letters to friends in the United States, Germany, Austria, England, and France as well as professional correspondence with music agents and composers in the United States and England. Some of the correspondents are Gamaliel Bradford, Leander January de Bekker, Annabel Morris Buchanan, Harry Flood Byrd, Jr., James Branch Cabell; Joseph Conrad, Francis Warrington Dawson, Lord Dunsany, Mary Johnston, Daniel Gregory Mason, John Lloyd Newcomb; Walter Ashby Plecker, Katherine (Kitty) Buckley Powell, Amelie Rives, Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Edward Reilly Stettinius, Jr., Claude Augustus Swanson, and Winston Wilkinson.

Most of the correspondence relates to the provisions needed to give concerts and negotiations between commercial music agents and music clubs. Correspondence also focuses on the discovery of folk songs, requests for Powell to act as a judge in musical contests and Powell's work with many Universities to increase the understanding of folk music. There is also information about Powell's efforts to set up a Music Department at the University of Virginia and a Silver Jubilee concert at Carnegie Hall where the proceeds of Powell's concert are to be donated to the University of Virginia Library for the purchase of letters by Thomas Jefferson and [Joseph] Cabell. There is also a set of stamps from the Charlottesville Apple Festival included in the correspondence from 1953. (Box 18, folder 7)

In addition to correspondence, there are manuscripts relating to John Powell, including articles, and course materials on the history of folk music. He promoted courses on folk music and gave performances to local music clubs all over the country in an attempt to educate the public about this type of music. There are also piano works, such as "Dirge," a piano duet by Powell, op. 26, notes about programs, musical scores, reviews of musical compositions, and speeches.

Included in the manuscripts of this collection is a civil war account that was given to John Powell titled, "Recollections of a Courier of the Last Ten Days of the Army." It is a first hand account of life on the battlefield in the Civil War and is published in the Confederate Veteran, vol. 27 (1919), page 341.

Other manuscripts include original drafts of plays by Louise Burleigh Powell and musical and drama manuscripts by colleagues of John and Louise Powell. The manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by type of material. Following the manuscripts in this collection, is printed material for musical programs.

The Powell collection also has significant correspondence on eugenics and racial integrity. Powell's dedication to folk music was equaled by his passionate interest in maintaining the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race in America. He was very active in establishing Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America and promoting legislation that would keep the races separate. There are articles about eugenics and many letters written to John Powell about racial integrity, including vivid descriptions by his wife, Louise Burleigh Powell, of the racial laws being argued in the courtroom. Powell also collaborated with Marcus Garvey in a movement that tried to colonize African Americans.

Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, the State Registrar of the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Virginia, shared Powell's passion for racial integrity, and sent copies of all his correspondence concerning racial matters to Powell. Dr. Plecker believed that the Indians had mixed with African Americans and there were no longer any pure Indians in Virginia. He wrote on the back of their birth certificates that they were not Indian. Plecker dedicated his life to preventing African Americans from trying to pass as Indian or White and there are many copies of his letters in the collection.

In addition to the correspondence of John Powell and Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker, there are news clippings from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Richmond News Leader, The Daily Progress and several other newspapers about racial integrity and John Powell.


The Papers of John Powell have six series beginning with correspondence in Series I. Most of the correspondence of John and Louise Powell is in chronological order in Subseries A, section number 1. There is a second and smaller section of his correspondence which is in order by topic and consists of business cards, fans, interviews and press releases, personal, and V.I.P. correspondence in Subseries A, section number 2. The correspondence of their colleagues and friends is in Subseries B.

Series II consists of manuscripts of music and plays in topical order by type of material. Subseries A contains manuscripts by John Powell. Subseries B includes manuscripts by other musicians. Subseries C has manuscripts of Louise Burleigh Powell, a playwright. Subseries D contains manuscripts of other playwrights.

Series III includes printed materials about music, such as programs for recitals and news clippings about music. The programs are in order by date and the news clippings are arranged by topic.

Series IV consists of information on eugenics and racial integrity and is single foldered by date. There are four subseries containing information on eugenics. In Subseries A, there are articles and legislation about eugenics. Subseries B has correspondence of John Powell concerning eugenics. Subseries C contains the correspondence of Dr. Walter Ashby Plecker. Subseries D includes news clippings about eugenics.

Series V is a collection of photographs relating to John Powell.

Series VI consists of miscellaneous items, such as biographical information, financial information and papers including memberships and organizations that Powell attended.

Contents List

Series I.: Correspondence
Back to Top
Series II.: Manuscripts and Related Materials
Back to Top
Series III: Printed Materials and Programs
Back to Top
Series IV: Eugenics and Racial Integrity