Sylvester Earl Powell Sr., professionally known as “Earl Powell,” is a Grammy, Billboard, and RIAA master of Songwriting and Music Production, and owner of Eptone Music Productions & Eptone Branding.
Earl was born and raised on Chicago’s west side in an area notoriously known as K-Town. His interest in music began in elementary school when his older brother brought a trumpet home from school. Earl immediately took to the trumpet, and so his music journey began. He joined Intermediate Band as soon as he could, which was in the 5th grade at Sumner Elementary School, under the leadership of Mr. Savage. Mr. Savage had a table full of instruments to choose from. Because of his familiarity with the trumpet, Earl chose the trumpet and there began his formalized training. After Intermediate Band, Earl went on to join Concert Band to conclude his elementary school band experience.
Earl attended Manley High School, where he went in swinging, under the leadership of Mr. Wisniewski, affectionately known as ‘Wiz’. He started off playing 3rd trumpet as a freshman. By the end of his sophomore year until he graduated, he played 1st chair. In his junior & senior years, Earl was unanimously voted President of the Jazz Band, receiving much prestige and recognition, including Musician of the Year for both years.
During high school, under the recommendation of Wiz, Earl auditioned and subsequently performed with Chicago’s All City Jazz Band. This was a high honor, as it was comprised of the cream of the crop players from the entire city. Wiz was also the one who rallied behind Earl being recognized in the 1988 – 1989 Edition of Who’s Who In Music, which is an esteemed international honor.
Also during high school, recreationally, Earl and a few friends from the neighborhood formed a singing group, called Chill Mix Shockers (CMS). This group of guys was very serious about music, and their parents were extremely supportive, as it kept their young men positively occupied outside of school. Their group performed at many events and competitions, and was widely loved by the neighborhood and respected by rivaling groups in other parts of the city.
After high school, Earl continued his music education at the highly respected VanderCook College of Music. At VanderCook, Earl majored in Trumpet, minored in Piano, and fully learned composition.
Un-D-Nyable Entertainment (Frank Thomas)
After his time at VanderCook, in the mid to late 90’s, Earl and his life-long best friend Jack Williams landed the head production role at a record label started by Baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas’ during his time with the White Sox. The label was called Un-D-Nyable Entertainment, based in downtown Chicago. As a production duo, Earl & Jack were known in the industry as E&J. Their writing & production resulted in success for the label and its artists, including instant Billboard-charting radio hits. Some of the artists they worked with at Un-D-Nyable were Chamillionaire, the group Entourage, from which Jay “Slique” Adams originated, the group Strong, from which Ben One originated, as well as Dejah Gomez, performing artist who has toured extensively with Stevie Wonder, The Lion King, Kanye West, and many more.
Un-D-Nyable was the starting point of Earl’s long-standing relationship with friend and mentor Paul David Wilson, who was the label’s President.
Music Production Education
Earl Powell has been an educator, motivator, mentor and trailblazer for a number of professionals that we see and hear today, and that’s due in part to his 8 collective years of college teaching between Chicago’s prestigious Columbia College and Triton College. Between the 2 schools, he taught over 500 college students Record Production and the Business of Music.
Earl started teaching at Columbia at the tender age of 26, where he was often mistaken as a student, until he opened his mouth. In typical fashion for Earl, he rallied for the class to be more than theory/textbook learning. With Un-D-Nyable being right around the corner from Columbia, Earl took what never should have been an exclusive textbook experience, and made the record production class a hands-on learning experience for these tuition-paying students. Under Earl’s leadership, Columbia eventually purchased equipment and built their own studio. Many of Earl’s students have gone on to do great things in music, including receiving Grammy recognition, being performing artists and facilitating solid behind the scenes leadership roles under the music umbrella, including music managers, entertainment lawyers, and more.
No stranger to the unseen, Earl is a visionary to the core. Whatever is not there, he simply builds it. Earl’s time at Triton College is a testament to this. After his time at Columbia, Earl was encouraged to contact Triton College to see if they had a music production course. Upon reaching Mr. Shelley Yoelin, head of the Fine Arts department and discovering that there was no existing music production course, Earl was initially turned down for the teaching position for not having “degreed” teaching credentials, only to be called a few days later and offered the position because he was “exactly what they were looking for.” Earl and Shelley immediately began talks for Earl to start teaching in the next school year, and introduce Record Production into their Fine Arts curriculum for the very 1st time, a huge contribution to the history of Triton College’s Fine Arts Department! Earl worked on a budget and began working side by side with Shelley, and in the process they became really good friends. Upon approval of the budget, Triton purchased over 30 Mac computers, miniature keyboards and software. Earl’s knowledge and input were so valued that he was asked to sit in on the hiring process to help vet additional faculty within the department. After teaching at Triton for several years, Earl made the decision to move on & put more focus on building his own brand, business and studio, but not before he recommended another really good friend and Un-D-Nyable colleague Johnathan Smith as his replacement. Earl placed the program into John’s hands, where it still remains to this day.
Earl’s heart for the arts is undeniable, so he always knew he would give back to the community that cultivated his love of music. With that said, and with budget cuts always seeming to target the arts, leaving students without the same opportunities that he had, Earl decided to do his part to help offset these budget cuts. Beyond the institutionalized classroom setting, Earl started Beat Creators, which was a 501C3 recognized after-school not-for-profit music educational program. Through Beat Creators, Earl received grants to purchase equipment for the organization. He very fittingly started it at his high school alma mater Manley High School, and went on to do the same at several other entities, to include schools and churches.
Earl made music history in 2008 for his work with America’s sweetheart Jennifer Hudson, the first female artist to receive, a Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG, and many more all within the same year. When he saw Jennifer for the first time on American Idol, he declared that they would work together, and indeed they did. Shortly after Jennifer’s stint on Idol, when she returned home to Chicago, Jennifer heard one of Earl’s tracks, and insisted on meeting the producer. The two met and an instant rapport, friendship & working chemistry ensued. They made several songs together, but it was Earl’s work with Jennifer on the song “Stand Up”, that gave Jennifer original material to perform gigs and shows and maintain momentum during the interim between Idol and Dream Girls. “Stand Up” was the show-starter of many pivotal shows for Jennifer, including the show when she met and opened for the Queen of Soul herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin, who subsequently hand-picked Jennifer to portray the role of the Queen in her posthumous big screen biopic. “Stand Up” went on to grace Jennifer’s self-titled debut album, which won a Grammy Award in 2008.
Earl played an integral role in another monumental moment in Jennifer’s career, and that was when Jennifer met and serenaded acting legend Sidney Poitier at Chicago’s film festival. Earl was approached by Chicago’s film association, to see if he could orchestrate having Jennifer come pay tribute to Mr. Poitier, who was that year’s honoree. In true fashion Earl made it happen. Not only did Earl make sure Jennifer was there, but he also recreated the song “To Sir With Love” from the movie by the same name (starring Mr. Poitier), so that Jennifer could learn and perform it. It was a special moment not only to witness, but to be a part of.
Earl’s career has afforded him the opportunity to have his work featured on the big screen, with credits that include
- “Nothing Like The Holidays” (Debra Messing & John Leguizamo)
- “Of Boys & Men” (Angela Bassett & Robert Townsend)
- “The Truth” (award-winning directorial debut of Hill Harper)
- ”(Mis)Leading Man” (starring Morocco Omari; Best Short Film in Hollywood)
Relocation to California
Throughout Earl’s career, Earl knew he would eventually relocate to advance his musical career, so in the Fall of 2011, once his son Sylvester Powell Jr. finished high school, and while his younger 3 children were still very small and easily adaptable, he and his wife decided that the timing was right to make the move, so they did.
Within 30 days of being freshly relocated to Los Angeles, Earl secured a publishing deal for one of his artists at Warner Chappell Music, connecting him with prestigious playmakers and positioning the artist legitimately to work, write & produce with other prominent acts and artists within the company.
Also shortly after the move, in 2012, Keyshia Cole released her album “Woman To Woman,” on which Earl produced the title track, featuring Ashanti. The album debuted at #2 on Billboard!
The Jacksons/Tito Jackson
A few years after being in Los Angeles, Earl was approached to submit songs for The Jacksons, which he initially declined. Out of so much respect for the group, he thought that it deserved an introductory conversation, to properly pinpoint and target what they were seeking. After a little bit of convincing, Earl sent demos to the Jacksons. They were extremely receptive to his music and even more receptive to his personality. With their common Midwest roots, there was an immediate bond and rapport between them, exchanging about life and some of the familiar places where they performed. From that came new music, Earl began writing songs with the Jacksons, and went on to make music history once again, by working with Tito Jackson on his debut album. Tito is the last original Jackson to record a solo project. Tito, after moving self aside to be a family man, being the father of multi-platinum pop group 3T, decided that it was finally time to come out with a record, and Earl happened to be in the right place at the right time, with the right stuff. They immediately went to work on an album that would eventually be called Tito Time. During the process, Earl wrote on a total of 8 songs, co-mixed the entire album, and brought Big Daddy Kane onto the song “Get It Baby” that was instantly well received by millions globally. The album hit Billboard’s Top 20, with several singles being played on major radio in major cities.
International Endeavors/Toronto, Canada
Over the last few years, Earl realized one of his goals of working internationally. In 2018, Earl became an ambassador for charitable organization Mission Air (Switzerland), and wrote the song “On The Wings” which gave the organization a musical identity for their cause. This song has a very unifying undertone and has been well-received globally.
Additionally, Earl began travels to Toronto, and was so well-received there that it’s become somewhat of a second home for him. Initially as a part of the Mentor’s Café at the Canadian Music Week, Earl met & subsequently began partnering in production and writing with colleague and dear friend Ben Pelchat on many projects. Among the Canadian artists he’s worked with are Matt Hoyles, Nina Browwn, and Rats of the Universe. In 2020, Earl produced & wrote on a pop Christmas song called “Christmas In California” by Canadian artist Raff Pylon featuring Snoop Dogg, another career highlight. From the song’s inception to the video, Earl played a key role in making this collaboration happen.
Special Mention/Other Noteworthy Collaborations
In addition to the aforementioned events that make up many of the highlights of Earl’s musical background and career, Earl treasures those who have helped shape his career through their advising & mentorship. Among this short list of mentors is industry and radio playmaker Elroy Smith. Elroy needs no introduction to those in the music world. Their relationship began organically & professionally, when Elroy, as the Programming Manager at Chicago’s #1 radio station at the time WGCI, heard one of Earl’s songs and immediately had to have it. Within days, the song was in heavy rotation, loved and demanded by all. Their professional exchange, but more importantly their brotherhood & friendship, remain intact.
Through the years, Earl has worked with several other artists that are worthy of mentioning. They include the late great music legend Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, LaTocha Scott (Xscape), Alfonzo Hunter, Johnny P., Syleena Johnson, Tweet, Public Announcement, Kimberly Locke, Sandy Redd, Marzette Griffith, Floyd Taylor, The Latimore Brothers, Ike the Writa, Kofi Black, Feloney Davis, LaTanya Hughes, Keni Jackson, and more.
Outside of music and other professional endeavors, Earl is a devoted husband and father of 4. He’s beyond proud of his oldest son Sylvester Powell Jr. who has worked hard as a model & actor since moving here, and has been a part of several major modeling campaigns, including the Space Jam 20th Anniversary shoot, and he is a regular on CW’s All American Homecoming, in the role of JR. He’s equally as proud of his younger 3 children, Solomon, Chayil & Michael, who are also extremely & uniquely talented, destined to make significant positive contributions to society utilizing their talents in the very near future.
Extremely compassionate and insightful, among Earl’s bucket list goals, he plans to feed the hungry on a monumental scale. Earl is also a staunch advocate of truth and justice, a proven, trusted leader, operating from an innate mindset to add more than you take, and bring value to every encounter. This inevitably lands him in leadership roles in just about every arena of involvement. He considers himself wonderfully blessed to know and have known some of the most amazing people ever!