Hiram A. McAdams

Jennie Robbins - Alice Rebecca Williamson

Maydell Thompson Cooper

By Sue Wafer Gilpin

Maydell was the second child of Alice Cornelia McAdams Thompson and Cuyler Thompson. She was born on October 7, 1907, in Bedias, Texas, and died on June 11, 1972, in Madisonville, Texas.

Her hair was so unbelievably thick and curly, it was almost "kinky" and unmanageable. Since long tresses were the only acceptable style for young girls, her mother had to arrange Maydell or (May's) mass of reddish-blonde hair in dozens of fat tubular curls.

Maydell was blessed with the phenomenal gift of playing the piano "by ear". She couldn't read a note of music, but everyone said she didn't need to read it. All she had to do was hear it once and she would play the piece better than it was written. My mother, Alete, would become so frustrated after practicing for hours and days on a special piece, thinking surely this time she'd outshine her younger sister. Maydell would slide onto the piano bench next to Alete and ask, "how does it go, sister?" Mother would perform perfectly, then little sister would say, "that's enough, move over now." She would then play it with such an exquisite interpretation that even the most somber gospel dirge sounded like a rhythmic pops concerto!

On many evenings after supper, my grandfather, Cuyler, would get out his violin, and both Alete and Maydell would accompany him on the piano. Unable to compete with the competition, Mother would soon relinquish the keyboards to little sister. Shortly after that, their father would put his violin away. Maydell was the star performer, anyway; she needed no accompaniment! Mother said that when Maydell was in college - either her first or second year - one of the national "Big Bands" came on campus for a performance and their keyboard player became ill. Somehow, Maydell was suggested for an emergency replacement that evening. She so impressed the band leader and other musicians that they offered her a full-time job with the travelling orchestra. Elated with the prospects of being paid to do what she loved to do most of all, she asked her Poppa for permission. He declined. The band leader made a special trip to Bedias begging her dad to reconsider, promising they'd take good care of her (she was till in her teens). The irate and proper Mr. Thompson said "no daughter of mine is going to travel around the country with a bunch of men." I think this declined opportunity not only broke her heart, it broke her spirit. She was a natural jazz musician. She heard church music with this influence, and that's the way she played for churches. You've never heard "Old Rugged Cross" until you've heard Maydell play it.

Denied a career as a jazz musician, Maydell honored her father's sentencing and did not rebel as most of the liberated McAdams women would have. However, it is believed that she sought revenge by leaving school - without parental blessings - to marry the handsome, sadistic Ivan Cooper. Despite her tireless efforts to make it work, the marriage was toxic and after a short while, her abusive husband delivered his beautiful young wife back to her parents. My grandfather met them in the driveway wielding a shotgun and would not allow the "old cuss" to set foot on the Thompson property. Holding the shotgun at close range, he vowed, "If I ever even hear you're anywhere near this county, I'll come after you and blow your head off." It is not known whether or not the gun was loaded.

After that, Maydell had a continuous line of amorous suitors (with honorable intentions) come calling, but she rejected them all. Returning to college, she completed her education, received her Master's degree and taught elementary education until her retirement. Her death occurred a few years after that.

I have often wondered in my dreamy imagination how Maydell's life would have differed had she mustered the courage to defy her father and boarded the bus with that gypsy band of adoring jazz musicians.