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.