Early Life and Career – 1975 to 1990
Mighty May Johnston was born on 8 May 1975 in Singapore. Her mother is of Chinese race with Portuguese ancestry and her father is Indonesian.
Due to her parents working in hospitality in five star hotels; May and her older sister were left many times with babysitters which eventuated to her being brought up by a foster mother from the age of 6 to 10 years old.
In times of loneliness; May was often placed in front of the television and fell completely in love with music. Her first memory of music was watching a show called “Solid Gold” hosted by Dione Warwick. At the age of 4 years old; she started mimicking Michael Jackson dance steps and sang his songs. He was her first introduction to music.
When her parents saw the potential in her; May was always placed in front of parties of friends to show off her dance skills. Her mother then brought her to an audition for a talent competition on SBC (Singapore Broadcast Corporation) where she successfully appeared in “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. After this; May found that she enjoyed singing and dancing and became part of a choir singing Christmas carols for Singapore Hyatt Hotel from the age of 8 years old as well as enter many dance competitions.
Before leaving to come to Australia in 1987; she was involved in a musical production and an album called “Poverello – Francis of Assisi”. This album was given to Pope John Paul as a present for his visit to Singapore. This choir was also honored to sing for “Mother Theresa” and May was chosen to give her flowers and welcome her to Singapore.
In her early teens; her music teacher Anthony King took her under his wing and introduced her to jazz and blues. May started performing in the Melbourne Music Scene from the age of 15 at wedding functions, public bars and festivals. During these times; she performed at “Next Wave Festival” at the Last Laugh, “Carols By Candlelight” with Knox City Council, at Dallas Brooks Hall and Melbourne Concert Hall.
Working with other Musicians – 1991 to 2009
After leaving school; she was thrown out of home; having to learn to fend for herself she started working with Australian Leisure Hospitality Group as a bartender and waitress but never giving up her dream to become a singer.
As she kept working in the hospitality industry; she also started working at Melbourne Hyatt Regency with a jazz quartet on Thursday residencies for 7 years with very known and respected jazz musicians from Melbourne such as Andrew Gander, Phillip Rex, Darryn Farugia, Chris Paraha to name a few.
Whilst working with these musicians; she learnt how to hone into her craft as a blues and jazz singer.
Between the ages of 25 to 35 years old; May continued to work in the Melbourne music scene with many different ensembles from duos, trios, quartets to orchestras as well as perform to intimate audiences of 10 to 20,000.
For three years, 25 to 28 years old; she performed around Melbourne 6 to 7 nights a week that resulted in her losing her voice for over 4 weeks. This dramatically changed her view of how to take care of her voice. She was distraught and looked for help from a teacher of Alexander Technique which helped her with posture and projection then she sought assistance from Cosimo Ciccone who helped her get her voice back.
In the years of training with him; Cosimo taught May his technique and how to teach it. He also helped her find her “Mama Gospel” voice that she never knew existed. He showed her how to place high notes in the right place and to regain her confidence in singing again. Cosimo became a mentor and a close friend.
More to come – 2010 to 2016
After many years singing many genres from jazz, blues and Top 40’s; she felt a force directing her to funk and soul music. She started to listen to more James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and Glady’s Knight. In her journey to embracing these two genres; she started to perform with “Solar Flares’; a soul and funk band.
On Thursday 24 December 2009; members of that band had booked tickets to see a “Marva Whitney” show and told her that it was good education for her. Before the main act came on; the support act “Deep Street Soul” came on and May was blown away from the intensity, rawness and tightness of the band. She was not able to not take her eyes of the drummer and the bass player as they played through the songs. She also admired how the female Hammond player performed with much energy and vibe. This was the band that she wanted to be a part of.
Straight after the gig; May went home and searched for the band on “My Space” and sent an email to them saying how she enjoyed the band. She asked them to listen to her songs on her my space website. An email chain continued for over a year in which Mighty May Johnston would email Warren Hunter (Papa J) asking if she could come and sing for the band. The polite responses were that they were an instrumental 4 piece band that has a singer working with them and that if anything comes up; they would consider her.
May continued to hope for an opportunity to show them what she can do and it eventually did come up. As she was walking out of her job; Warren Hunter called her and said “I need to pose a hypothetical question. Could you learn a repertoire of our songs to perform within less than 24 hours?” She recalled that she was excited by this chance and replied “Hypothetically; if you send me the songs very soon I will do the gig”
The songs were emailed at 9pm that same night and she spent most of the night listening to the music and memorizing the lyrics. By 2pm the next day; she was ready to do the gig. Unfortunately; her car was out of action and she had just come out of a leg cast. May did not offer this information to Warren because she was keen to sing with the band. She limped on buses and trams to the Deep Street Soul gig from Werribee to Brunswick eager to show them that she was ready to perform with them. After a year of correspondence; this was her chance.
This was the start of a creative working relationship with the band as they introduced May to the soul music community as their new full time female singer in the band. The gig that she really felt she met them was at the PBS “Soul A Go Go” show in November 2010. She recalls having a conversation with Monique Boggia in the greenroom; where she said that the band needed to give me a stage name. Within a few minutes; she said “That’s it! It has to be Mighty May Johnston”. This was how her stage name was created.
From 2010 to 2016; May worked in many different bands such as “Grandwazoo Kings of Soul”, “Something Blue”, corporate wedding bands, involved in the “Women of Soul” shows but kept her heart and soul with songwriting and performing with “Deep Street Soul”.
They travelled to Europe to perform at “Glastonbury Music Festival”, at great music venues in the UK, Spain and finally performing at St Paul’s Jazz Festival in France which became the best gig she had ever performed in.
In 2013; Deep Street Soul began to take a serious look at working towards another album after the successful launch of the 2011 album “Look Out Watch Out”. This new project would take a while to come together.
From 2013 to 2016; May’s personal life became a rollercoaster ride of emotions and drama. After her divorce; she struggled to be independent and at times was broke and homeless. She struggled to find a stable job to pay her rent and food. As much as she kept performing; the money was not enough for her to live day to day. The lyrics of the song “Soul’s Come Alive” was written to reflect her life struggles and how she faced life diversities and became stronger.
In 2014; May decided to audition for X-Factor and was selected as one of the Top 100 contestants in Australia. Unfortunately; she did not make it through to the next round which made her doubt her ability as a singer in the music industry however as she was a survivor; she picked herself up and kept going.
In the 20 years in the music industry; she also gained qualifications in Business Management in the Hospitality and Telecommunications industry.
After losing so much; May decided to start a business and applied for a course that was run with the government. The assistance from the government through the NEIS program assisted her in getting back on her feet. She started to teach singing privately and became a sub-contractor singing teacher for a number of private music schools.
In 2016; May has established many business relationships with clients, venue managers and bands and continues her life journey as a Singing Teacher, Mentor, Performer and Recording Artist.