May 24, 1947 - April 16, 2021
Jeffi Rochelle Powell
May 24, 1947 – April 16, 2021
Jeffi Rochelle Powell, beloved by family, friends, co-workers and all who knew her, passed away at age 73 on April 16 in Portland, OR, following a brave struggle with cancer. She had enjoyed a rich, full life, most notably as a publicist for such legendary musical artists and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honorees as Patti Smith, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts and Simon & Garfunkel. Yet even as Jeffi worked with acts that were or became superstars, she retained a modesty that reflected her proud Midwestern roots. She was known throughout her life for her strong work ethic, applying herself with dedication, loyalty, industriousness and thorough competence to any and all pursuits, be it basic office tasks or a historic musical event.
Born May 24, 1947 to Jack Linsey Powell and Nigel Eilene Criswell Powell, Jeffi grew up in numerous locales throughout North and South Dakota as her father traveled to work on construction projects. In 1966, she graduated from Minot (ND) High School, where she had pursued her love of music as a member of the school choir. After spending the summer working as a car hop, Jeffi moved to New York City.
She worked at a variety of jobs during her first years living in the Big Apple: go-go dancer, waitress, babysitter, in a motorcycle shop and more, all the while enjoying a bohemian lifestyle (but eschewing the drug consumption pursued by many around her). She eventually landed a gig as, first, a receptionist for Magazine Management, which published mass-market pulp, girlie, adventure and men’s titles, with articles written by such later notable authors as Mario Puzo (”The Godfather”), Martin Cruz Smith (“Gorky Park”), Bruce Jay Friedman and others.
When the company launched a rock music magazine, Jeffi got to know Jane Friedman, whose public relations firm The Wartoke Concern had done publicity for the Woodstock festival. Jane hired Jeffi as a publicist at Wartoke, where she represented such famed musical acts as Stevie Wonder, Frank Zappa, Richie Havens, John Cale and a poet-turned-rock singer named Patti Smith, who Jeffi worked with closely during the early years of Smith’s musical career. She rose to become a critically-acclaimed leading light of the late-1970s punk/new wave movement, score a #13 hit single with the Bruce Springsteen song “Because The Night,” and become regarded as a feminist trailblazer in rock music. She was later inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) in 2007 and won the National Book Award in 2010 for her memoir, “Just Kids.”
Following seven years with Wartoke, Jeffi went to work with Andrew Loog Oldham – the former manager and producer of The Rolling Stones – on the management, production and promotion of a young rock band from Dallas, TX called The Werewolves. After two albums on RCA Records, the group failed to break through in radio play and sales. Jeffi and Oldham then joined ABKCO Music & Records, the record label, music publisher and film and video production company run by Allen Klein, former manager of The Beatles and Rolling Stones. She assisted in compiling seven albums that showcased the catalog riches of Cameo-Parkway Records, which included recordings by Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell and Question Mark & The Mysterians as well as other pop, rock and R&B acts.
Disappointed by the music business, Jeffi briefly served as a bookkeeper for a construction company before she was recruited to join another pioneering independent music PR firm, The Howard Bloom Organization, where her clients included the multimillion album-selling rock band Styx. While there she began representing a new act who had just issued their first album, Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. Jett and her band went on to score hit songs like “I Love Rock’n’Roll” – which was #1 on the singles chart for seven weeks in a row – “Bad Reputation,” “Crimson and Clover” and others, sell more than a million copies of a number of their albums and become favorites on MTV. Jett also became a rock music feminist icon, and in 2015, she and the Blackhearts were inducted into the RRHOF. Jeffi was justly proud of her association with the group and remained friends with Jett as well as one of her biggest fans for the rest of her life.
In late summer 1981, while Howard Bloom was on extended leave from the office with a crippling back ailment, the company was approached to work on a benefit concert in Central Park reuniting Simon & Garfunkel. Jeffi and a fellow publicist met with city officials and the promoter and won the account. With less than two months until the show, Powell led the Bloom Organization staff to ensure that the historic event on September 19 received the international media coverage it merited with seamless efficiency. Half a million fans – the seventh-largest concert attendance in American history – gathered on the park’s Great Lawn for a sublime concert performance that was filmed for an HBO concert and released as a live album that sold two-million copies in the U.S. and millions more worldwide. It was Jeffi’s finest moment in her music business career.
When Bloom closed his office in 1985, Jeffi took a job with Mercury Air Freight on New Jersey and also volunteered for a New York settlement house before moving to Portland, OR in the early ‘90s to live with her sister Paget C. Engen and aunt Margaret (Margie) Powell, later helping care for her ailing aunt. After brief employment for a coin machine vending business as an administrator and bookkeeper, she was hired to a similar position by the City of Portland, where she worked until her retirement in 2006.
Jeffi’s interests and pleasures included going out dancing, which she enjoyed during her New York years at clubs that played rock and soul/disco music. She loved history, nature and the environment, reading widely about the native and indigenous people of North America, the British monarchy and civilization’s impact on the world and its people. She was a champion of those who were considered underdogs and strived to make things better for everyone around her, and supported many charities, particularly Native American and environmental causes. She had a special bond with animals, especially dogs, and volunteered at the Humane Society as well as petsitting for neighbors and friends. She also liked to travel and for many years celebrated her May birthday with road trips to parts of Oregon and western Washington with her sister and best friend Sheila Mahan, and one year enjoyed an overseas visit to Italy. She also enjoyed a trip back to Minot for her 50th high school reunion.
Although Jeffi had worked with a number of famous musical acts, she was refreshingly free of any pretensions and conceits regarding her celebrity associations but did enjoy regaling family, friends and co-workers in Portland with stories from her music business career. During those years she was both respected and well-liked by her clients, members of the media, and everyone in the music industry that she interacted with. Her sterling reputation remains intact with the many who remember her fondly. She retained her trademark plucky spirit and keen sense of humor through her last days and during her final weeks enjoyed exchanging loving farewells with a number of her dear friends from the past.
Jeffi is predeceased by her parents, sister Paget, brother Jay Powell and aunt Margie. She is survived by her brother Kade of Juneau, AK, nephew Kyle Engen and his wife Carol Mathewson of Beaverton, OR, nephew Tobin N. Engen of Bellingham WA, great-nephew Sam Engen of Beaverton and numerous cousins. She was always supportive of her family, fiercely devoted to their wellbeing and generous in her gifts to them. Jeffi was grateful for the loving care Kyle and Carol provided in her last months just as she did the same for her aunt Margie.
A small memorial gathering will be held at Kyle and Carol’s home in Beaverton on May 23rd starting at 2 pm. Please contact her nephew Kyle Engen(firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to know more.