Richard E. “Dick” Powell, professor of trombone in the West Virginia University School of Music from 1968 to 1995, passed away in 2001, but his legacy lives on in the many students whose lives he touched during almost 30 years of teaching at the University.
As part of this legacy, Powell’s former student Jon Youngdahl (BM ‘75) and his wife Sharon (BA ‘71, MA ‘74) have pledged $25,000 to the College of Creative Arts to establish the Richard Powell Trombone Scholarship in the School of Music.
The scholarship is for undergraduate or graduate students who are either trombone performance majors or whose primary instrument is the trombone.
The scholarship honors one of WVU’s most influential teachers.
Powell was born in Cincinnati and attended the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He received a bachelor’s degree in music from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia and a master’s degree in education from Southwest State Teachers College. Prior to coming to Morgantown, he was a second trombonist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra from 1959-60 and first trombonist with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra from 1960-68. He was also a U.S. Army veteran, having served in the Korean War.
When he came to teach at WVU, the School of Music was still located downtown in Eiesland Hall, but soon moved to the newly built Creative Arts Center on the Evansdale campus.
Youngdahl, from Fairview, Pa., was a trombone student at the time, having come to WVU on a Board of Governors scholarship.
“When Professor Powell came, I immediately recognized his teaching and playing ability,” Youngdahl said. “He could pick up the horn and play the famous trombone solo from Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ and other famous trombone symphonic excerpts, cold.
“He got along really well with all of the students.”
Powell was a big Cincinnati Reds fan. There was also a Major League first baseman at the time named Boog Powell, so that became his nickname.
“We all called him Boog, and he loved it,” Youngdahl said. “He was a funny guy and we loved him.”
Powell wanted to start a trombone ensemble at WVU and it turned out that he had some really good playersnot only Youngdahl, but others such as Bob Hamrick (BM ‘68, MM ‘70), who went on to become the principal trombonist for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and John Locke (BM ‘74, MM ‘75), who later became director of bands at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and one of the youngest presidents of the American Bandmasters Association.
“The original WVU Trombone Ensemble had six trombones and a rhythm section,” Youngdahl said. “Dick Powell was a fantastic arranger and he wrote almost our entire book. It was three and a half inches thick!
“We were really dedicated and practiced all the time, two or three times a week in the evenings and often on Saturday mornings as well.
“He encouraged us to play in all different styles. We played Negro spirituals, jazz, arrangements of lots of great tunes and also some originals. We even played a great arrangement of ‘Hail, West Virginia,’ and all kinds of cool things. We also played works by Bach that he transcribed for trombone.
“We traveled around in a beat-up Volkswagen bus, performing at jazz festivals and other events all over the place. Professor Powell crammed us all in there, along with our equipment.
“He was like a second father to all of us. He had eight kids of his own and lived in a small rancher up off University Avenue, but they used to invite us all over to eat Mrs. Powell’s famous lasagna.”
Powell not only had a major influence on the music students, but also outside the university. He started freelancing on piano and played a lot of solo piano gigs at area restaurants and other venues. Then, as he was the best bone player in the area, he started playing more and more trombone gigs. He played at the Lakeview Country Club in Morgantown and the Green Acres Supper Club in Clarksburg, and also with the Wheeling Symphony and with dance bands around the state.
He regularly played with Jim Miltenberger’s jazz quintet and they made several recordings. He was also the featured soloist during the Miltenberger Jazz Quintet’s three tours of Europe.
“All the bands had horns in those days,” Youngdahl said. “I played with him in many freelance situations, from touring shows to town band concerts and dance band gigs, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“Then I formed my own rock band called Hit & Run that played music by Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago, as well as Edgar Winter and other soul groups. I also played in a group called The Abductors with Jay Chattaway (BM ‘68, MM ‘93) and Jeff Taylor (BM ‘67), who both later went to the U.S. Navy Band.”
Chattaway became famous as a composer for films and television, including the “Star Trek” series, and Taylor became command master and chief composer and arranger for the U.S. Navy Band.
After Youngdahl graduated, he spent a short time teaching in his wife Sharon’s hometown of Dunbar, but he knew he didn’t want to teach, he wanted to play.
“Professor Powell encouraged me to audition for the U.S. Navy Band,” he said. “Jay Chattaway and Jeff Taylor were already there. Boog was a big advocate of learning to sight read as well as being fluent in all styles of music, and those are two things that helped me get the job.”
He ended up having a 28-year career with the U.S. Navy Band.
“Even after I left Morgantown, Boog and I stayed close,” he said. All my kids went to WVU and when we came back for the home football games we stayed at the Powell Bed & Breakfast. They were always family to us.”
Shortly after his retirement from WVU, Powell became ill during the first visit he and his wife Beverly made to the Youngdahls’ home near Washington, D.C.
He suffered a pulmonary embolism and was hospitalized for eight days. He recovered, but his health was never the same. He died in September 2001.
For Youngdahl, the fond memories will remain with him always.
“He gave all of himselfeverything he hadto his students,” Youngdahl said. “He was not just a teacher, he was a great friend to all of us.”
The Youngdahl family contribution was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University. The $750 million comprehensive campaign being conducted by the WVU Foundation on behalf of the University runs through December 2015.
CONTACT: Charlene Lattea, WVU College of Creative Arts
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