Jepson, Helen (1904–1997)

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Jepson, Helen (1904–1997)

American soprano. Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, on November 28, 1904; died in Bradenton, Florida,on September 16, 1997; daughter of Charles Henry Jepson and Alice (Williams) Jepson; graduated from West High School, Akron, Ohio; Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, B.A. with honors, 1928; married George Roscoe Possell (also seen as Poselle), on June 3, 1931; children: one daughter Sallie Patricia.

The equal of many of the more prominent European sopranos of her day, American Helen Jepson captured the hearts of opera lovers with her lyric soprano voice and radiant good looks. Born in Titusville, Pennsylvania, to a musical family in 1904, Jepson sang in her church choir and had leading roles in her high school's operettas. The family's modest income, however, precluded music lessons, and after high school Jepson went to work—first in a department store, then in a record shop—to earn money for her training. With enough saved, she took her first vocal lessons with Horatio Connell. She subsequently won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where she studied with Queena Mario . Graduating with honors, she was engaged by the Philadelphia Civic Opera Company and made her debut in The Marriage of Figaro. She then appeared with the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company, singing the role of Nedda in Pagliacci to excellent reviews. She remained a leading soprano with the company until it disbanded two years later.

The Depression temporarily interrupted Jepson's burgeoning career, and she had difficulty finding work. When an offer finally came to sing on the radio with the Bamberger Little Symphony Orchestra, she accepted. Her success was such that offers followed to perform with Rudy Vallee as well as Paul Whiteman, who hired her as a permanent singer with his orchestra. As a regular on Whiteman's popular show, she gained national exposure and an opportunity to sing for Gatti-Casazza of the famed New York Metropolitan Opera.

After a successful audition, Jepson made her Metropolitan debut on January 24, 1935, as Helene in Seymour's In the Pasha's Garden. She went on to become a featured singer with the Met, performing roles in French, Italian, and German operas. In 1936, she went to Paris to study the roles of Thaïs and Louise with famed singer Mary Garden , then added them to her already impressive repertoire. In addition to her work with the Met, Jepson also made appearances with the Chicago Civic Opera Company.

In 1931, Jepson had married George Roscoe Possell, with whom she had a daughter. The couple divided their time between homes in New York City and a mountain retreat where Jepson raised rabbits. An avid sportswoman, she engaged in hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. She also enjoyed swing music and frequently entertained friends with renditions of popular songs.

Helen Jepson made numerous recordings of her most popular arias and was the first soprano to record the female lead in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. The singer retired in 1943, after which she taught for many years. She spent her later life in Bradenton, Florida, where she died on September 16, 1997.


Ewen, David. Living Musicians. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1940.

"Obituary," in The Day [New London, CT]. September 19, 1997.

Sadie, Stanley, ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Vol. II. NY: Macmillan, 1992.

Slonimsky, Nicolas. Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. 8th ed. NY: Schirmer Books, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts