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Remembering Gloria Powers

Will Coviello on the passing of a woman whose life was devoted to promoting New Orleans arts

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Gloria Powers was a longtime supporter of the art, music and culture of New Orleans. After suffering a stroke recently, she went to Lafayette to be with family.   She died at Lafayette General Hospital Feb. 7.

  Powers served as the executive director of the Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, which runs the Big Easy Awards, since 1991. The foundation annually recognizes achievement in music, theater and classical arts, and through grants it supports development and education. Powers also was active with the Living History Project.

  She was trained as a cultural anthropologist, and exploring and promoting various cultures allowed her to touch many lives.

  "She came into my school classes to talk about Native American,s and she used to volunteer to take my class on field trips," says her daughter Jessica Bride. "We went to the space center in Huntsville, Ala., and my mom told me she was going to quiz me afterward. It seemed unfair because all of the other kids were on their own. But she was such a tremendous lover of knowledge, from dense mystical books to current events.

  "She felt it was so important that people be active citizens. It was a theme that carried through her life: Be highly aware of your surroundings and the role you play in the world."

  Powers was born in Tennessee and while in her early teens moved to Louisiana with her family. They opened a truck stop on Hwy. 90, and Powers fondly remembered trips to New Orleans and listening to music at the Roosevelt Hotel's Blue Room. She later attained bachelor and master degrees at Louisiana State University.

  After moving to New Orleans, she became more active in the city's arts and music communities. She coordinated events for the city of New Orleans, Latin American Chamber of Commerce and the National Endowment for the Arts. She also worked with many Louisiana festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Voodoo Experience.

  In 1991, Powers became director of the foundation that runs the Big Easy Awards and became well-known in the city's music community.

  "Gloria's a real sweet person; I played her daughter's wedding," says Kermit Ruffins, who first met Powers in the late 1980s when he played with the Rebirth Brass Band. "I'd always see her passing by my bar at Sidney's Saloon, and she'd stop and come in and hang out with us for an hour. We're really going to miss her."

  In 1994, the foundation started the Tribute to the Classical Arts, which was held last week. Through the event, Powers met WWL television anchor Angela Hill.

  "To me, (Powers) was always the heartbeat of the Classical Arts," Hill says. "She was the perfect person to pull it all together, for the opportunity to thank the artists."

  "More than anything else, Gloria's passion for the performing arts and the people in the arts inspired us to grow the Big Easy Entertainment Awards into what it is today — the oldest, largest and most prestigious entertainment awards program in the state," Gambit publisher Margo DuBos said in remarks at the Classical Arts luncheon. "It is no exaggeration to say that the Big Easy Awards would not be where it is today without Gloria."

  Powers is survived by three daughters, Bride, Ashley Lecky and Tiffany Mitchell, as well as eight grandchildren.

  There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 17, at Trinity Episcopal Church (1329 Jackson Ave.). In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Gloria Powers Memorial Fund at the New Orleans Musicians Clinic & Assistance Foundation (www.nomaf.org/donations.php).

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