Powell is the son of Sylvester and Catheryne Powell of Birmingham. He attended Tuggle and Wilkerson schools and Ullman High School. As a boy he was a participant in the Civil Rights Movement and attended 16th Street Baptist Church. He was close friends with Cynthia Wesley, one of the victims of the 1963 church bombing.
He then enrolled at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, majoring in vocal music. He transferred to Talladega College after his first year and married Pauline Robinson.
After graduation the couple moved to New York City. He has performed for Voices, Inc., in the off-Broadway tour of Hair, with the Chic Organization and with the Village People, Herbie Mann and other artists. He was the understudy for the lead in the revival of The Wiz and starred was part of the cast of Mama I Want to Sing.
Powell has toured Europe with Gloria Gaynor and twice with Queen Esther Marrow and the Harlem Gospel Singers. He returned to Birmingham as part of Birmingham City Schools' artist-in-residence program (Mind Lift, Inc.) He starred locally as "Joe Bailey" in Tuxedo Junction. In 2001 he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.