StoryCorps: An Army Singer Didn't Carry A Weapon. He Had His Voice Master Sgt. Alvy Powell Jr. sang opera at some of country's most decorated institutions during his 26 years in the U.S. Army Chorus. At StoryCorps, he told his sister that she's his inspiration.

As An Army Chorus Member, He Didn't Carry A Weapon. His Job Was To Sing

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, recording and sharing the stories of service members and their families. Today, we'll hear from Yvonne Powell and her brother Master Sergeant Alvy Powell, who at the time of his retirement in 2017 had a special distinction.

YVONNE POWELL: When people hear the title oldest enlisted soldier in the Army, what image comes to mind?

ALVY POWELL: Some old guy trying to carry his weapon and just can't make it. I don't know.

SIMON: But Master Sergeant Powell, who's 65 now, didn't carry a weapon in the Army. His job was to sing opera at some of our nation's most decorated institutions. He first joined the U.S. Army Chorus in 1983, reenlisted in 2001 and recently sat down for StoryCorps with his sister, the person who inspired him to sing.

A POWELL: I started singing because of you. The way you sang, the beauty of your voice - it made me stop whatever I was doing.

Y POWELL: My favorite memory is us singing in church. I like your voice. I always did (laughter). And you pursued your singing.

A POWELL: Yeah. And I remember I was singing in a dinner theater, and one of the men in the orchestra approached me and said, there's an opening in the soldier's chorus. And I said to him, you mean join the Army? No, no, thank you. That same week, I was with my voice teacher, Mr. George Shirley, and he said, you should go to the one that I was in. And I said, you were in the Army? He said, oh, yeah - the United States Army Chorus. That was my entrance. I knew nothing about musicians being in the Army, but that was the job, just to sing.

Y POWELL: And I was thinking, thank the Lord he's not going out to battle, you know?

A POWELL: But we are probably one of the military's secret weapons. The Army Chorus would be entertaining generals from different countries. And sometimes the negotiations weren't going very well, and the Army Chorus would come in and sing something from those people's native country in their native tongue. And all of a sudden, you could see the faces light up, and they would start to smile.

Y POWELL: I remember I asked you, are you nervous sometimes when you get ready to sing? And you said that's a part of it.

A POWELL: If I don't have a little butterflies, something's not right. When I sang the inauguration for George H.W. Bush...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

A POWELL: (Singing) Let us all be grateful...

...I remember to this day walking down the aisle and standing in front of that podium and seeing what felt like close to a million people standing out there. And, yes, I was nervous. But after a while, you learn to channel the butterflies, and that's what I did.

How did you feel the second time I enlisted and went back?

Y POWELL: I was glad that you went back.

(LAUGHTER)

Y POWELL: I know there was something that you love, which is singing.

A POWELL: I had no idea that I would be able to have the kind of success musically - and when I say success, what I mean is the ability to keep a roof over my head and do nothing but sing. To me, that's success. But I don't think that I would have taken this path had it not been for you.

Y POWELL: Well, you're welcome, my brother.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A POWELL: (Vocalizing).

SIMON: Alvy Powell, who at the time of his retirement in 2017 was the oldest enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, and his sister Yvonne Powell for StoryCorps, recently recorded together in Norfolk, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

A POWELL: (Vocalizing).

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