Most of us remember Dick Powell as a longtime actor, director, and producer, and as the host of his own TV show, but he actually began his career by showcasing his talents as a musician and singer. In fact, for a number of years he was one of the most popular crooners around.
When you think of the urbane and sophisticated image Powell projected in many of his movie roles, you’d never guess that he began life in rural Arkansas, but even as a child his interest was in performing. He not only sang in church and school choirs but also learned to play several instruments, and by the time he started college in the early 1920s he was already thinking of a show business career.
Powell was still in his teens when he left college to follow his muse, and after gaining some experience with a couple of other groups he landed a spot with a solid regional band led by Charlie Davis. He spent several years with Davis, as both an instrumentalist and singer, and not only toured with the outfit but also furnished the vocals for many of its records. After leaving the band in the early 1930s to spend some time on stage, he was ‘discovered’ by a talent scout and was soon on his way to Hollywood.
It didn’t take long for Powell to make his mark in movie musicals, breaking out as a star in 1933’s classic 42nd Street alongside Ruby Keeler. For the next decade he made countless movie musicals while also appearing regularly on radio, and was one of the most popular stars around. But eventually he began to leave music behind and become a more conventional actor, reinventing himself and finding new stardom as a tough-guy character. He also began enjoying his work behind the scenes as a director and producer, which he continued to do for many years even as he mostly left acting behind. He was just 58 when he died from cancer in 1963.