As God’s plans often do, this one started out small, with a guitar, a record player, and a songbook. For Lee and Jenny Powell and their five children, entertainment often took the form of singing along to Lee’s guitar or a variety of albums. The kids learned harmony by singing shaped notes a cappella out of the hymnal at church. Little did the family know, gathered around the guitar in their living room, that God had something much larger in mind.
In February of 1966, Lee and his three oldest children—son John, 21, and daughters Toni, 19, and Linda, 16—prepared two songs to sing at a church meeting in Decatur, Illinois. At the meeting they met a group called the Melody Boys. After hearing the family sing, the Melody Boys asked if they would be interested in helping stage an a cappella concert. They agreed, and after learning 18 songs in two months, the Powell Family Quartet debuted in Farmersburg, Indiana, in April 1966.
The next few years brought various changes to the group. John went to Columbia, Missouri, and Mt. Vernon, Illinois, to attend graduate school, which limited his participation. Toni married and moved out of town and out of state. Jenny and the two younger sons, Jan and Vince, joined the group, giving them a variety of quartet options.
In the spring of 1970, the family did a variety show at Edison Elementary School in Mt. Vernon, where John was teaching, to raise money for the Teacher Corps program. The program featured four parts—country, folk, rock, and gospel—and guitars. Two of Lee’s nephews, Danny Lenz and Dave Harker, spent time playing guitar, and Jan and Vince had discovered their God-given talents in that area as well. Lee and Jenny reasoned that God had given those gifts to be used, and the group made the transition to including musical accompaniment. In 1971, the family asked their friend Milt Kelly to help them by playing trumpet for Keep on the Firing Line, and he played trumpet and later piano with them for the next 10 years, along with writing several songs. From 1971 to 1973, the pianist was Wendy Allen, a high school student. She recalls being confused by the family’s approach to sheet music: “Key of C?” she asked. “What’s that? Where’s the rest of it?” Eddie Bain, who started playing drums for recordings, joined the group full-time in 1973. After playing with them at the Farmer City Fair, he told them he was agreeable to playing other dates, which ended up being, in his words, “just about every weekend after that.” He stayed with them through their final concert in 1989. Toni returned to Champaign from Texas in 1988, and although she didn’t sing with the group, her presence brought a sense of completeness to the family unit.
In May of 1972, the Powell Family was caught up in the move of the Holy Spirit that was sweeping across the country. “That time in May” forever changed the family’s ministry, bringing a new dimension to each member’s spiritual walk and a new awareness that the focus was on glorifying God and spreading the gospel, not just performing.
In 1973, the family began to grow in a new way—grandchildren. Between March 1973 and July 1982, Lee and Jenny welcomed 13 members of the next generation of their immediate family, plus three children apiece in the Bain and Kelly households. Fortunately, they had already acquired a bus, which had a lot more room for transporting all the required people, equipment, and other necessities. John began writing songs on a regular basis and formed Miracle Works Publishing to address those issues, and they also eventually opened their own studio, Miracle Works Recording.
As the 1980s wound down, so did the first phase of the Powell Family’s ministry. By 1989, the family had gone from often singing three Sundays per month for most of the year to singing twice—at Tolono Fun Day and at the Champaign County Fair. The children ranged in age from 7 to 16, and their parents felt like they were supposed to spend their time focusing on their own families. The gifts were still present, but they were to be used in a different way. The family went back to singing around the guitar in Lee and Jenny’s living room at family gatherings, and occasionally dusted off songs to sing at church, but the Powell Family as a musical group was in many ways simply a wonderful memory. The children graduated from high school, then college, and got married.
Then in 2001, Isaac had a dream and felt the stirring of the Holy Spirit to reawaken the ministry that had, as he was told, “lain dormant,” and the family presented several songs at church one Sunday morning. Over time, other family members also felt the Spirit’s urging. Following that quiet direction finally led us, in late 2005, to pursue renting the Virginia Theatre for a 40th anniversary and reunion concert. Vessels of the King was presented on Saturday, August 12, 2006. We had exciting reunions with old friends, and received confirmation from that the Lord that it was not a one-time event, but a new beginning for our ministry. A year later, we ministered in song for a friend’s ordination. Now, in 2008, we are preparing for a Christmas concert, The Gift, and a new Christmas CD. And for those who have inquired in the past, we have now begun the process of converting classic Powell Family albums to CD format.
The Powell Family’s goal is to bring to the Lord the gifts He has given us, to allow Him to use them as He chooses. He told us that whenever our music was played, He would release His spirit. We appreciate your prayers as we endeavor to be His vessels and be used for His work.