UM sophomore brings her love of music to the Ole Miss campus

Madison Hyatt
Oxford Stories

The sound of a guitar plays a few hundred feet from a screen door. Cracked black nail polish picks the cords as the guitar hums. University of Mississippi sophomore Holly Powell has been making music since she was a toddler.

Early exposure to music as a child aided in her musical experience and skill in both vocal and instrumental music. 

“Singing is something I grew up doing,” Powell said. “Ever since I was a toddler, I would perform on my grandma’s coffee table, and my family would watch. By the time I was 5, I was singing solos in church or with my mom.”

Powell sang throughout childhood and adolescence in her local church youth choir and theatre productions at her schools. As knowledge of Powell’s talent spread throughout her hometown of Houston, Mississippi, she began to sing at different churches throughout the city.

“I grew up singing wherever people wanted me to sing,” Powell said. “Besides my school, my town really only has churches. I would sing at my church, which is First Baptist, and then I would sing at the Methodist church that Sunday as well.”

Powell began playing the piano at age 5, which easily coupled with her vocal talent. As her skill grew, she combined both abilities. 

“I started writing my own music when I was probably in about 9th grade on the piano,” Powell said. “I got bored with playing my own songs, so I just started writing my own. My songs are usually ballads. They will be either really fast and harsh music or, other times, they will be soft and almost eerie. It just depends on what kind of mood I’m in.”

In addition to the piano, Powell began playing the guitar her sophomore year of high school. She started to write music and record music with both instruments.

“I sit down at the piano [or with the guitar] and just kind of play whatever I’m feeling,” she said. “I record what I play and relearn it because I can’t usually remember after one time. I like to write with the piano the most because you can press out the actual notes. With guitar, it’s more cords and picking. I sit down at the piano, press record and start just playing.”

After high school, Powell decided to attend the University of Mississippi. Although she chose not to become involved in any musical group organized through the university, during panhellenic recruitment,  Powell realized her desire to spearhead music within her sorority, Tri Delta.

During the last round of the University of Mississippi’s panhellenic recruitment, sorority members often sing and perform for their potential new members. This last round is called preference round, or pref. 

“When I first came to pref at Tri Delta, another sorority I was interested in had made a point that drew me to them,” Powell said. “But when I went to Tri Delta’s preference round, they sang an Adele song called Make You Feel My Love. When they sang that song, I could see myself singing up there, in the singer’s place, to the girls in that room.”

After joining Tri Delta, Powell’s desire to become involved in the musically-oriented preference round grew. Powell decided to audition to sing or play an instrument for her sophomore year of rush. She hoped to make the same impact on potential new members as the previous performers made on her.

“I was excited my sorority mentioned tryouts for preference round,” said Powell. “I originally auditioned thinking I wasn’t going to play any instruments. I was just going to sing. After tryouts, I was supposed to play guitar for two singers, but I ended up both singing and playing the guitar last minute. At midnight the night before (preference round), I learned the song and played it at 10 a.m. the next morning.”

Fellow Tri Delta member Meredith George was impressed with Powell’s vocal and musical ability.

“I remember hearing her start singing, and I was just in awe,” George said. “I had no idea a sound like that could come from such a little girl. I think both the members and potential new members were really struck by her.”

After her performance at preference, Powell felt exceedingly drawn to a music leadership position in the sorority. Powell’s close friend, Anna Pendleton, saw her desire to become involved and nominated her for the position of preference chair. This means, if nominated, Powell would be in charge of the entire musical dynamic of the preference round.

“Knowing Holly, she’s always been very musically oriented,” Pendleton said. “People always say the position finds the person, instead of the person seeking the position. So knowing Holly and how much she loves music, I just thought she would really enjoy that position. On a whim, I decided to nominate her.”

Because a majority of her fellow sorority members agreed Powell was the correct fit for the job, she was selected as a preference chair. In her new position, Powell hopes to use her vast range of musical experience to challenge the past preference rounds into new heights.

“I don’t necessarily think I’m more talented than other girls within my sorority for this position,” Powell said. “But I’m really excited about getting to organize music, find musicians, put musicians together, and just get to write music and do our own thing together.”

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