Saturday was the end of an era. It was the funeral for our dear Aunt Janie Thompson. She was a grand lady and the 1500 people who came to pay their respects represented hundreds of thousands more who were touched by her life and energy and legacy.
Jane Thompson, "Janie," as she was later called, was born into a musical family sent to settle in a remote part of southern Idaho. These were people with no farming or ranching experience, but heeded the call to settle the far corners of the West. Janie's parents had a ranch, but found that their abilities were better suited to running the local Post Office. Grandma Lora was a celebrated operatic soprano who had entertained VIP's from all over the world and was a soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Grandpa J. Henry was a basso profundo. Together they passed on their love of music and created an artistic haven amidst the tumbleweeds of Malta, Idaho. Janie loved playing the piano and singing and dancing. Grandma Lora used Janie's natural gifts to help her direct shows with the children in town. Grandma had the vision, and young Janie provided the model for the children to follow. Janie grew up knowing that she had God-given talents. Her parents made sure she knew that "where much is given, much is expected." She lived her life by that motto and always said that the best way to show gratitude for God's gifts is to magnify them.
Janie went on to hone her gifts for pop singing and playing the piano and decided to audition for the USO just after WWII. She had the opportunity of touring and entertaining servicemen over-seas. Later she sang with Ike Carpenter's big band and the young Tony Bennett. He was the crooner and she was the "Red Hot Mama." Janie would have been happy continuing on in this show business career, but she felt the need to serve a mission for the LDS Church (in Wales). Later she hoped to rejoin the Ike Carpenter Band as she was invited to do, but accepted a position at BYU instead. While at Brigham Young University, she developed the talent of the students in the Program Bureau. She used her contacts in the US Defense Department to sponsor the BYU student show groups that toured all over the world. Her groups were the first college groups to go to the Far East and China, India, Russia, the Holy Land, besides the many European and State-side destinations already open to show groups. In her time at BYU, Janie took tours to every Continent (excluding Antarctica) and nearly every country in the world. In her later years, she was known for singing the song "I've Been Everywhere Man!" in which she named the hundreds of places she had traveled. The many, many verses are both exhilarating and exhausting to listen to! I was lucky just to be a back up singer on her recording.
By the time I was old enough to take notice, I thought that my Aunt Janie was the most glamorous and sophisticated lady I ever saw. She reminded me of the movie stars in the glory days of Hollywood. She sang fabulous songs. She traveled all over the world. She wore bejeweled clothes. She was classy. And she always remembered to bring me back something wonderful from her travels. She loved her family. I adored her. I have a memory from when I was about 4 years old. She had me sing with another girl and boy in a trio for her local shows. They were several years older than I was, but she trusted that I could learn the songs. We stood around the piano and I stood very close, eye-level with the keyboard, by her right hand. She told me to watch her pinky finger and sing the notes it played. So I did. I didn't realize until much later that she was teaching me ear-training and harmony, as well as showmanship. I was indeed privileged to sing on so many shows for so many audiences from such a young age. Aunt Janie was always so generous to promote and showcase young talent.
Janie started the BYU show groups such as Curtain Time USA, Showtime USA, Expo 70, The BYU Sounds of Freedom, The Young Ambassadors and the Lamanite Generation (Living Legends). She has left a legacy not soon to be forgotten. She has received many accolades and awards. Books have been written about her, Women of Character by Susan Easton Black and Mary Jane Woodger. A video documentary was produced about her, Janie Thompson - A Performance of Faith. Tony Bennett wrote about her in his memoirs. The many people who celebrated Janie Thompson's life and legacy at her funeral commented over and over again that their lives were changed for the better all because of her. She launched many careers. She was a grand lady. There will never be another Janie Thompson.