Norfolk Archives - StoryCorps

“The Oldest Enlisted Soldier In The Army” — And The Sister Who Inspired Him To Sing

Growing up in Cheriton, Virginia, Alvy Powell’s fondest memories were listening to his older sister Yvonne sing. Once he was old enough, the two of them took the stage together and performed duets at church. Not long after, the world of opera would enter his life.

By 1983, Alvy was studying under the famous opera singer, George Shirley. Mr. Shirley was a mentor, and the first African American tenor to perform a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera. He also happened to be the first African American to sing with the U.S. Army Chorus. At his suggestion, Alvy was invited to audition for the chorus. Alvy’s life would take a surprising turn — into the Army. 

Master Sgt. Alvy Powell Jr. Courtesy of US Army Photos (released) by Master Sgt. Christopher Branagan.

Alvy spent the next ten years honing his voice as a bass baritone opera singer, performing for some of the highest dignitaries in the world, and at renowned venues, including The White House, The U.S. Capitol, The Supreme Court, and The State Department. 

In 1993, he left the chorus to pursue singing independently, only to reenlist at the age of 46. By the time he retired in 2017, he earned a unique title for an opera singer — the oldest enlisted soldier in the Army. 

Yvonne also found a life in civil service, working for the Department of Homeland Security. She never pursued a career in singing, but she did continue performing in church. And she and Alvy never stopped singing together.

Master Sgt. Alvy Powell Jr. Courtesy of US Army Photos (released) by Master Sgt. Christopher Branagan.


Top Photo: Alvy Powell and Yvonne Powel at their StoryCorps Interview in Norfolk, Virginia on July 14th, 2021.

Originally aired July 24, 2021, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

A Mother on Growing Up in the 1960s in a Large Black Suburb

More than half a million Americans have recorded StoryCorps interviews across the country. Often, participants use the opportunity to pass vital wisdom and stories from one generation to the next. That was the case in this StoryCorps recording from Norfolk, Virginia.

Charisse Spencer came to StoryCorps with her teenage son Myles to tell him what it was like growing up in the 1960s in Cavalier Manor, Virginia — at the time, one of the largest black suburbs in the country.


Bottom Photo: Charisse Spencer (right) with her sister Carol in 1967. Courtesy of Charisse Spencer.

Originally aired April 27, 2018, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Kendall Bailey and his friend Don Davis

Kendall Bailey (R) talks to his friend Don Davis (L) about his dismissal from the U.S. Marines under the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.

Genna Alperin and MJ Seide

MJ met her partner in the early 1990s. Her partner had been married to a man and raised children.

MJ soon embraced her new extended family, especially her granddaughter, 12-year-old Genna Alperin.

MJ tells Genna what happened once she fell in love.

Originally aired February 12, 2010, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Lisa Ray

Lisa Ray remembers her father, Lenoir Ray.