Gordon “Specs” Powell, drummer, 85

Musician rose to fame during the swing era

Jazz drummer Gordon “Specs” Powell, who recorded with Billie Holiday and played for “The Ed Sullivan Show” as part of the CBS network orchestra, died of complications from kidney disease Sept. 15 in Escondido, Calif. He was 85.

Powell began his career doubling as a pianist, but rose to fame as a drummer during the swing era and became a fixture on the 52nd Street jazz scene in New York.

In 1943, he was hired by CBS, becoming one of the first black musicians to play for a national network. At CBS, he played for “The Jackie Gleason Show,” “Candid Camera” and other specials until 1972. He also worked on soundtracks for “Barbarella,” “Shaft” and “Loud Mouth: The Lenny Bruce Story.”

Powell was a versatile percussionist who carried a kit filled with castanets, clickers and other noisemakers he referred to as his “bag of tricks.”

He is survived by his wife, Peggy; two daughters; a son; eight granddaughters; a grandson and six great-grandchildren.

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