Growing up in rural Mississippi, Robert Powell did not hear a choir of mixed voices until he heard the Louisiana State University Concert Choir during his first year in college.
After graduating from LSU, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Tokyo, where he conducted a choir of American soldiers and Japanese women; their first big program was Handel's Messiah
He was assistant organist at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, where Alec Wyton, his mentor, was organist and choirmaster. Because of the amount of reverberation in the Cathedral, Mr. Wyton often referred to the building as "two blocks of stone." Mr. Powell conducted some choir rehearsals and played many services there, and read through most of the Cathedral choir library.
Later, as Director of Music and Organist at Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville, South Carolina, many organ collections and anthems were written, as was his Service of Holy Communion, now widely used in many Episcopal churches.
Many of his compositions may be found in the GIA catalog, as well as in catalogs of leading American publishers.