Jane Thompson grew up in the small town of Malta, Idaho, the oldest of seven children. Her family was very musical, and Thompson jokes that as children they had no excuse not to be involved in musical endeavors. Thompson began attending Brigham Young University in 1939. She played the piano to put herself through school and completed her Bachelor of Arts degree in Music in 1943.
During her time as a student at BYU, Thompson worked with T. Earl Pardoe to produce a two act musical on campus.
After graduation, Thompson pursued a career in show business, performing with celebrities like Ike Carpenter and Tony Bennett. One of her first experiences was performing overseas for the soldiers during World War II in Britain, France, Germany and the Soviet Union. Thompson performed with the Civilian Actors Technician Service (CATS).
In 1952, after Thompson returned from her LDS Church mission, she ran into Carpenter, who offered her a spot in the band again. That same day President Ernest L. Wilkinson called and asked her to come to BYU and take over the Student Program Bureau, later known as the Young Ambassadors. She made her decision, turned down the band, and ended up at BYU for thirty years. The Student Program Bureau put on 2,463 shows within four years, and under Thompson's direction visited every high school in the state of Utah during the 1952-1953 school year. Shows consisted of anything from one solo to an hour and a half performance. These shows served not only as a recruiting tool but also a way to open the doors for missionaries throughout the country.
Thompson provided BYU shows for the U.S. Defense Departmentfor the service men and women all over the world in order to boost morale. She also performed for the Department of State to provide good will between different countries.
After four years at BYU, Thompson moved to New York where she coached talent in a professional talent studio. There she worked with the Kane Sisters. In addition, Thompson had her own quartet that played in various places including Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Three years later, however, Thompson returned to BYU and the Program Bureau. After her return, Janie was invited by the Department of Defense to organize a performance for servicemen in the Pacific in 1960. She went on to organize several international tours through both the Department of Defense and the Department of state.
By her retirement in 1984, Thompson had created six touring shows including Brigham Youngsters, Young Ambassadors, Lamanite Generation, Holiday in the U.S. and Curtain Time USA. Two of them -- the Young Ambassadors and Lamanite Generation (now Living Legends) still continue to tour, serving as ambassadors for the University.
In 2009 the film Janie Thompson: Performance of Faith premiered at the LDS Film Festival in Orem, Utah, which honored Thompson for all of her contributions to BYU. It continues to show periodically on BYU TV.
In 1950 Thompson interrupted her career and education to serve a full-time LDS mission in Wales.
While working at BYU, she also served as a member of the general board of the Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association for the LDS Church for 16 years under two presidencies. During this time, Thompson served on four committees: the Beehive Committee, the MIA Committee, the Golden Gleaner Committee, and the Dance Committee. Thompson has also served as a ward organist, ward activity counselor and stake dance director.
Thompson has been recognized for her excellent work. In February 2012 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the SCERA at its seventh annual Evening of Stars gala. She was also presented with the Distinguished Service Award for her service to BYU in 1992.
Other awards include:
- Janie Thompson Day - The city of Provo designated November 14, 1968 as Janie Thompson day. The citation was signed by the mayor of Provo and both commissioners and was presented to Thompson at a special luncheon sponsored by the Provo Kiwanis Club.
- Ambassador Award - The Provo Kiwanis Club presented Thompson with the Ambassador Award.
- Women of the Year - On February 9, 1971, BYU named Janie one of six outstanding women of the year at BYU.
- Department of Defense Certificate of Esteem - Presented in October 1971 by Senator Frank Moss for her patriotic service in providing entertainment to members of the U.S. Armed Forces overseas.
"We as Mormon people need to build our own standards of everything whether it be standards of conduct, a standard of dress, standards of entertainment. Whatever the standard might be, we should build our own standard and not particularly go the way of the world. I feel that show business has tremendous power and as I look around me, I can see the great influence and power it yields on not just a few people, but millions of people. All you have to do is look at the big stars to see that that's true. In the 60's it was the Beatles and in my day it was Frank Sinatra who the people just idolized. They could just sway and influence many people. So from that we don't have to guess, we know that shows can be very influential.
"I realized that shows are a big visual aid that teaches, so we ought to be very careful what we put on the stage because we're teaching somebody. So here we are up on the stage, people are going to remember what they see. They are going to remember if we are wearing clothes that have good standards to them and are modes, or they are going to remember them if they are vulgar. They are going to remember if we dance vulgar, if we dance nice. They are going to remember if we sing vulgar songs or good songs. So there is a real responsibility there, and I've always felt that the young people themselves shared in this responsibility. I don't think it's just my responsibility, but I think it's the young people's responsibility too. I think it's all of us, and I have great faith in the young people. That's what brought me back here and has kept me here [at BYU]. I feel that if we can just point things out to them then they can do it themselves. It's like what Joseph Smith said, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves." I feel that if they have can have the insight themselves, then they think it's a beautiful thing to be able to do show business right within the framework of the Church. I don't really have to have a church leader tell me that certain things are not good. I want to know and be convinced myself, and that's the way I want my students to be. Not just wear their clothes a certain way because Janie Thompson says so, but because they can see the reason for it themselves.
"My philosophy of entertainment is to sell a product, and instead of selling the adversary's products we want to sell happiness, and wholesomeness and things that really count for making life worth living, and the gospel has all those answers. We can put our talents and our beauty and our brains and our intelligence to work as commercials and as advertisements or as visual aids for things that are good and that are righteous."
- The Daily Herald - Memories of a show by Janie Thompson (23 April 2012)
- The Daily Herald - Living Legend: Provo woman honored for her contributions to BYU performing arts (15 April 2012)
- The Daily Universe - BYU performance group reunites after 50 years (23 Mar. 2010)
- BYU Magazine - Stage Presence (Spring 2009)
- Mormon Times - Film features Young Ambassadors founder (23 Jan 2009)
- The Deseret News - 'Energizer' Janie keeps going: Entertainer has made lasting mark on BYU students (4 May 2006)
- BYU Magazine: Singing Through Life
- BYU Magazine: Janie Thompson to Headline at Homecoming
- Ensign - Janie Thompson (March 1986)
- Interview with Mike Ohman, November 2008 Part 1, Part 2
- Winters, Charlene Renberg. "Janie Thompson to Headline at Homecoming." BYU Magazine. 1999. Brigham Young University. 26 Nov. 2007. <http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=208>.
- Zimmerman, Thomas. "A History of the Program Bureau at Brigham Young University." Thesis. 1975.