a friend brought someone to my home she wanted me to meet. This was a
woman who perhaps loved Oak Bluffs and the Vineyard as much as life
Her name was Isabelle Washington Powell, known by all as Belle, an
Island icon, having first come here some seventy years ago. She was one
of the most charismatic people I've ever known. To be in her company was to hear some incredible stories of the fascinating life of celebrity, politics past and present and of her continued great love of a man she later divorced, Congressman Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. pastor of the 15,000-member Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem from 1937 to 1970. I grew up reading about the Powells in the Louisville Defender and other newspapers and history books, but to get to know Belle personally was a lesson in life.
This week, a wonderful new autobiography on the late, inimitable,
Isabelle Washington Powell dancer, actor, social activist, and first
wife of the late Congressman Powell was released. The book is titled
Adam's Belle: A Memoir of Love Without Bounds. The volume consists of 200 pages filled with photographs never before published with the
unmistakable voice of the Belle that I knew leaping off the pages. Ms.
Burnett, the co-author, has listened closely to Belle's words and
written an exciting book which begins in the early stages of Belle's
life in Savannah, Ga.; her time as a dancer at the Cotton Club and on
Broadway during the Harlem Renaissance; and the period where she gives up her life's ambition and first love, the theatre and dance to become the First Lady of Abyssinian Baptist Church. In Ms. Burnett's
words, Only a drama queen like Belle could meet a real-life Prince Charming and give up everything to marry him.
Joyce Burnett spent 10 years working with Belle Powell to complete the
book. I recall meeting Ms. Burnett on Belle's porch several years ago.
She was the perfect fit to co-author the book. It is obvious that Ms. Burnett became fascinated with the life of Belle, who was center stage
during the 1920's, making entertainment history with the notables of the day at a time when African Americans could not enter the Cotton Club as patrons to enjoy her immense talents.
It was Evelyn Horad, friend of Belle Powell and former journalist and
social columnist for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper, who knew
of her interest in writing a memoir and introduced Joyce Burnett as a
potential biographer. Joyce and Belle got along famously and a wonderful book is the result.
Joyce Burnett, an attorney, has an interesting background in her own
right. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, earned four
degrees and was a Fulbright Scholar. --Oak Bluffs Town Column