Although she didn’t spend a large part of her multifaceted career fronting for a big band, songstress Frances Langford knew her way around a bandstand, and was one of the best songbirds around. But the singer who was so beloved by World War II servicemen that she was called ‘The Sweetheart of the Fighting Fronts’ could just as easily have become an opera singer, if not for the slip of a scalpel.
A native of Lakeland, Florida, Julia Frances Newbern Langford (some bios differ on her birth name) was most definitely pointing toward a career as an operatic soprano. But botched throat surgery during her childhood deepened her voice and led her to pursue a career as a band singer, which she started while still a young teen by appearing on local radio. It would later lead to a regular job singing with Rudy Vallée’s band and appearing on his popular national radio show.
By the early 1930s she’d also gained a little Broadway experience and had moved to Hollywood, where she worked in radio and began to show up in movies. She became a breakout star by introducing the song that would become her signature tune, “I’m In The Mood For Love,” in the 1935 film, Every Night At Eight. Her movie career flourished over the next few years, with most of her parts featuring her lush and throaty singing style, but as World War II approached she found a new calling.
Already a regular guest on Bob Hope’s radio show, she became a popular part of many of his wartime USO shows. Her enthusiasm and charisma made her a favorite of servicemen, and Hope often said that one of the biggest laughs he ever heard was when she sang her signature tune, “I’m In The Mood For Love,” and a guy stood up and shouted, ‘you came to the right place, baby!’
In the post-war years, Frances Langford continued to enjoy a varied career that included a hit radio show, The Bickersons, with Don Ameche. (Although a later TV spinoff with the two stars did not last.) She also continued to show up in the occasional movie and made a lot of TV appearances, even headlining her own special at one point. She also rejoined Hope during some of his Vietnam shows. Semi-retired in her later years, she still occasionally came back for special appearances. She was 92 when she died in 2005.