In 2007, Isabel Washington Powell, a former headliner at Harlem’s Cotton Club, and the former wife of New York Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., passed away. Just before her death, on the eve of her hundredth birthday, Powell had collaborated with author, Joyce Burnett in the telling of her life story, from her childhood in Savannah, Georgia, to her time on the stage in Harlem, and her turbulent marriage to the mercurial Powell.
In Adam’s Belle: A memoir of love without bounds, the reader is given an inside look at life for African-Americans during the roaring twenties onward, through the eyes of one who lived it. In frank words, Isabel tells not just her story, but the story of a country in chaotic transition, and the travails of a free-spirited, determined woman who insisted on living life on her own terms in a society that judged people, not by their merits but by the color of their skin.
Many famous people appear in this book, but in Isabel’s words we see them not as famous people, but real-life people, warts and all. Despite rubbing shoulders with such renowned people, though, Isabel remains until the very end, her own person, one you would like to get to know better.
I received this book as a gift, and have read it several times; each time coming away with a renewed insight into a bygone era, an era whose legacy, unfortunately, is still with us in many ways.
A fascinating biography that unfortunately is often too repetitive. Nonetheless, I still give it four stars.