Shelf Life Community Story Project
Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle's Central District.

Joseph Powe's Song Crafters

Photo by Inye Wokoma

Photo by Inye Wokoma

Cecil Beatty moved to Washington state from Oklahoma, during World War II, to work as a machinist in the shipyards. In the early fifties, he bought a home on 31st and Olive, in the Madrona neighborhood (pictured here). Phyllis is his daughter. She grew up in the house at 31st and Olive, and raised her own children in that house, after marrying John Yasutake.

Cecil Beatty and Phyllis Yasutake

Phyllis: He sang in a men's chorus acapella called the Song Crafters by Joseph Powe. Mr Powe, it was a really beautiful group of men. They did a play with a company that came from New York and did a play at the Greenlake Aqua Theater. There was, between the stage and audience was a big body of water, and it was the aqua theater. 
 Cecil: What Jo Powe did there was got members of different choirs in the city, put them with our men's chorus, and had one huge choir, Old Man River and had this guy from New York, he had a real deep bass voice, and he sang Old Man River, and we sang the background music to it, and they had the orchestra in the pit down there, and in the swimming pool the girls, whatever they, synchronized swimming. It was really a big show. It was a big show. In the 60s.
 Phyllis: Yeah, I was like nine or ten. And my mother was in the chorus, and my dad, and I went to rehearsals with them everyday. I knew every line, every song, every move on that stage. And one day the director said, "We need some black kids, bring the Powe kids down." I said, "The Powe kids?!" Mr Powe had like four kids. I was like, "They don't care about being on the stage!" I threw a fit. I fell out screaming, crying, desperate to be on that stage, and my dad saw me up there screaming and crying. My mother knew nothing was wrong. She didn't move. But daddy came up there, because he couldn't stand to see us cry. He said, "What's wrong?" I said, "I wanna be on the stage! He asked for the Powe kids." And daddy said, "You just as po' as the rest of them, go on down there!" I jumped up and ran down to that stage! I knew what he said didn't make a damn bit of sense, but if it got me on that stage, I didn't care.