StoryCorps Griot Archives - Page 6 of 13 - StoryCorps
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“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.

“I Want This To Not Be Normal”: After Giving Birth Prematurely, Two Moms Are Working To End The Cycle

Sabrina Beavers and Shantay Davies-Balch have spent their careers fighting for Black maternal and infant health. 

When both women had their babies weeks before their due dates, they found themselves at the center of that very issue.

Sabrina came to StoryCorps in 2019, just five weeks after giving birth to her daughter Destiny. She talked with her friend and colleague Shantay about their firsthand experiences with preterm birth, and their shared hope that conversations like theirs will become more common.

Top Photo: Sabrina Beavers and Shantay Davies-Balch at their StoryCorps interview in Sanger, CA on May 3, 2019. By Nicolas Cadenat for StoryCorps.

This interview was recorded in partnership with Independent Lens and Valley PBS as part of a project to record stories about health and access to care in rural communities.

Originally aired July 2, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

A Pastor Who Was Once A Mischievous Child, Pays Tribute To “The People That Nurtured Me”

Growing up in the 1950s in Montgomery, AL., Rev. Farrell Duncombe or “Little Farrell,” as he was known by his family and friends, had a mischievous side. But he had many role models who kept him in line. One such person was his own father, Rev. Henry A. Duncombe Sr., who was the pastor of their church, St. Paul A.M.E. Church of Montgomery. 

It was at that church, where Farrell also drew inspiration from his Sunday school teacher, Miss Rosalie — eventually known to the rest of the world as Rosa Parks.

Later on, Farrell took all the lessons he’d learned growing up and went on to become a public school band teacher, and then a principal. He also stepped into his father’s shoes and became a pastor at his childhood church.

In 2010, Farrell came to StoryCorps with his friend and fraternity brother, Howard Robinson, to reflect on the people who nurtured him, and the humility he feels standing at his father’s pulpit. 

Rev Farrell Duncombe died on June 2, 2021 in Montgomery, Alabama.

Top Photo: Rev. Farrell Duncombe and Howard Robinson at their StoryCorps interview in Montgomery, AL on November 24, 2010. By Elizabeth Straight for StoryCorps.

Originally aired June 11, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Listen to Rev. Dumcombe’s story on the StoryCorps Podcast.

Almost 65 Years After Father’s Lynching, Two Daughters Are Still Looking for Justice

Warning, the following story includes a description of racial violence.

On January 23, 1957, Willie Edwards Jr. was eating dinner with his family in Montgomery, Alabama when he got a call from his boss at the Winn-Dixie asking if he could cover a shift for another driver. He left his two small daughters and pregnant wife at home that evening and never made it back…

Years later a former Klansman said that he and other Ku Klux Klan members pulled Edwards out of his truck at gunpoint, beat him and brought him to a high bridge over the Alabama River. They told Edwards to jump… or they’d shoot him. He jumped. 

Willie Edwards Jr. Courtesy of the participants

His daughter, Malinda Edwards was just three years old at the time. With StoryCorps, she told her sister Mildred Betts about the moment she learned what happened to their father. 

Top Photo: Malinda Edwards and Mildred Betts. Courtesy of the participants.

This story was produced in collaboration with the PBS series FRONTLINE as part of Un(re)solved — a major initiative documenting the federal effort to investigate more than 150 cold case murders dating back to the civil rights era. More such stories can be explored in an interactive documentary at Un(re)solved.

Originally aired June 4th, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“You’re My Forever Love”: Reflections On Over 30 Years Of Friendship

In the late 1980s, Julaina Glass had moved from her childhood home in Washington Heights, NY, to a small studio in Harlem. Julaina was 19 and living alone, but she found a fast friend in her upstairs neighbor, Beau McCall.

Beau was an artist and older than Julaina by about 10 years. His apartment became like a second home to her and they soon became inseparable.

Nearly 35 years after they first met, Beau and Julaina came to StoryCorps to reminisce about some of their happiest memories together, and to look back on how it all began.

Top Photo: Beau McCall and Julaina Glass at their StoryCorps interview in New York, NY on June 3, 2017. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.

This interview was recorded in partnership with the I, Too Arts Collective. It is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired May 14, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

For the Love of Books: One Librarian Makes All the Difference

As a young father in Brooklyn, NY, Rich Jean wasn’t always sure how to keep his three year old daughter, Abigail, busy and happy. He decided to start taking her to their local library. Abigail was soon enrolled in one of their programs for young learners. That is where they met an aspiring librarian, Hasina Islam. Hasina was still an intern at that time, but immediately did everything she could to encourage Abigail in her love of books.

Four years after that first encounter, Rich, Abigail and Hasina came to StoryCorps to talk about how that chance meeting set them on a path to friendship.

Hasina Islam and Abigail Jean after their StoryCorps recording on April 25, 2021. Courtesy of Hasina Islam and Rich Jean. 

Five years later, while separated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hasina and Abigail came back to StoryCorps to reconnect remotely with a second recording in 2021.

Top Photo: Rich Jean, Abigail Jean and Hasina Islam at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, NY on November 5, 2016. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.
The 2016 interview was recorded in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and IMLS National Medal winner, Brooklyn Public Library.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired April 30, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Daughter Pays Tribute To The “Mom Every Other Kid Wanted”

Mary Mills grew up as an only child in the 1960s, in a quiet neighborhood near Santa Monica, California. 

Mary Mills, 4, with her mother, Joyce Carter Mills, in front of their family car, in 1967.  Photo courtesy of Mary Mills.

Although Mary didn’t have siblings to play with, she was never lonely. There were plenty of children nearby and they all seemed to want to be at her house. More specifically, they wanted to hang out with Mary’s mother, Joyce Carter Mills.

Mary Mills and Joyce Carter Mills at their StoryCorps interview in Santa Monica, CA on February 7, 2020.
By Mia Raquel for StoryCorps.

In 2020, Mary brought her mom to StoryCorps to tell her why she was “the mom every other kid wanted.” Joyce, who was 89 at the time of their interview, starts their conversation.

Top Photo: A young Mary Mills with her mother, Joyce, in 1963. Photo courtesy of Mary Mills

Originally aired April 9, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

‘Just the Two of Us’: A Grandfather’s Musical Legacy

William Salter, 84, helped write one of America’s most iconic love songs, ‘Just the Two of Us’ — made famous by Grover Washington Jr. in 1981. But before he became a renowned musician, William was “just another kid on the block,” trying to find himself. He grew up in New York City, the child of a single working mother, and learned that music would be his greatest companion.

Decades later, after building a successful music career, William became a proud grandfather. He and his eldest granddaughter Jada spent most of their summers together, bonding over music and playtime.

Photo: (R) William Salter, his granddaughter Jada and her father (L) Jamal Salter. Courtesy of Jada Salter.

In January of 2021, using StoryCorps Connect, Jada, 25, asked her grandfather how he first found his sound.

Top Photo: Young Jada Salter and her grandfather William in 2002. Courtesy of Jamal Salter.

Originally aired February 12, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“He Did His Own Eulogy”: An Eyewitness Recalls Dr. King’s Final Speech

In 1968, more than 1,300 Black sanitation workers began to strike in Memphis, Tennessee, demanding better working conditions and fair wages. Clara Jean Ester, then a 19-year-old college junior, joined the protests in solidarity.

Photo: A young Clara Jean Ester, who graduated from Memphis State College, now known as the University of Memphis, in 1969. Courtesy of Clara Jean Ester.

When Clara wasn’t in school, every spare moment she had was spent on the picket lines or at the strike headquarters, Clayborn Temple. And later that year, Clara witnessed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his final speech in Memphis. The next day, she was at the Lorraine Motel when Dr. King was assassinated. 

Clara, now 72, sat down for StoryCorps in Mobile, Alabama, to talk about bearing witness to Dr. King’s final days.

Top Photo: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stands on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, a day before he was assassinated at approximately the same place. From left to right, Hosea Williams, Jesse Jackson, King, and Ralph Abernathy. (AP Photo/Charles Kelly, File).

Originally aired January 15, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

“This is Ours Too”: A Father Instills a Sense of Belonging in His Daughter

When Erin Haggerty was just a teen, her father George Barlow moved the family from Union City, California to the stark, white landscapes of Iowa. At the time, Erin was excited by the prospect of moving to a new place. But she soon realized that, as one of the only Black teens in her community, life would not always be so picturesque.

Photo: (L) George embracing (R) Erin at her high school graduation in 1991. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.

Erin spent years trying to find her sense of belonging in this new town. But overtime, she began to withdraw into herself. Her father George had always assumed Erin was just a shy teen; someone who kept to herself, was well behaved, and had no interest in high school parties. 

But in August of 2020, Erin opened up to George for the first time about what it was like being a young Black woman in Iowa, and how it was his words and kindness that saw her through those difficult times.

Top Photo: (L) Erin Haggerty and her father (R) George Barlow in 2010. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.
Bottom Photo: Three year old (L) Erin with her father (R) George in 1975. Courtesy of Erin Haggerty.

Originally aired September 18, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition.