The May Esther Peterson Thompson Collection

at Southwestern University

Biographical Note

May Esther Peterson Thompson, an opera singer with an international career, was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where her father was a Methodist minister. Her earliest musical performances were singing for her father’s services in church. After beginning formal musical studies at the Chicago Conservatory of Music, Peterson traveled to Europe when she was in her late teens to pursue a career in opera. She struggled financially for many years, sometimes living on bread and milk. Eventually, for health reasons, she moved to France where she was asked to learn the extremely difficult title role in Manon. Her performance was critically acclaimed, and in 1918, she signed a contract to sing soprano with the Metropolitan Opera Company. She also had a contract with the Vocalion record label and gave radio concerts. She famously declared that she “avoided romance” because of the demands of her career. In 1921, she apparently had a change of heart when Col. Ernest Thompson escorted her to a party in Amarillo, Texas, where she was performing. Thompson was a prominent lawyer, businessman and politician who ran for Governor and served in several political offices. They married in 1924, and Peterson, now known as May Esther Peterson Thompson, soon retired from the opera and relocated to Texas where she continued to give concerts in local venues. On October 8, 1952, she died of natural causes at their summer house in Colorado.

Some of the information for this biography was found in the Handbook of Texas Online: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fth48 (accessed October 18, 2007).

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