Powell graduated from Virginia in 1901. He was active as an alumnus, holding a concert series at Carnegie Hall in 1938 and donating the proceeds to Alderman Library, which used them to purchase letters written between Thomas Jefferson and Joseph C. Cabell. His students included Ernest Mead.
Powell was a white supremacist who helped to form an organization at the University called the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America. The organization, whose president was Dr. Paul B. Barringer, sponsored the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, Virginia state legislation making intermarriage between whites and those with a "single drop of Negro blood." The Racial Integrity Act was used to charge Richard and Mildred Loving with miscegenation; the subsequent Loving v. Virginia lawsuit established once and for all that anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, thereby legalizing mixed race marriage in the 15 states where it had been outlawed.
- "John Powell". MusicSack. http://musicsack.com/PersonFMTDetail.cfm?PersonPK=100012689. Retrieved 2014-01-10.
- "Radio Items". College Topics: p. 2. 1940-02-26. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=6AstAAAAIBAJ&sjid=JWkEAAAAIBAJ&dq=virginia%20glee-club%20john-powell&pg=2689%2C3530748.
- Dabney, Virginius (1981). Mr. Jefferson's University: A History. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. p. 188. ISBN 081390904X. http://repo.lib.virginia.edu:18080/fedora/get/uva-lib:178665/uva-lib-bdef:100/getFullView.
- Dabney, 363.
- Dabney, 66.
- Riley, Steven (2012-06-12). "Don't Pass on Context". Mixed Race Studies. http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?p=14196. Retrieved 2014-01-10.