Ellen Jane Froman was born in University City, Missouri, the daughter of Elmer Ellsworth Froman and Anna T. Barcafer. Her childhood and adolescence were spent in the small Missouri town of Clinton. Her father left her mother when Jane was about 5 years old. She developed a stutter around this time, which plagued her all of her life, except when she sang. In 1919, Froman and her mother moved to Columbia, Missouri, which she considered her hometown. In 1921, at age 13, Froman and another young lady gave a piano-and-song recital at Christian College, now Columbia College (Missouri) (where her mother was director of vocal studies and from which Froman later graduated), in 1926. In 1928, Froman moved to Cincinnati, where she studied voice at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music through 1930. She also attended the University of Missouri. Although she had classical voice training, early in her career she was drawn to the music of the era’s songwriters, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin, who were inspiring a resurgence in popular music. She met vaudeville performer Don Ross when they auditioned for the same job at WLW radio station in Cincinnati. She first appeared on WLW October 9, 1929 “on the King Taste night club.” She made her national network debut on NBC July 31, 1931. Froman and Ross had their own program beginning July 4, 1937. The 13-episode series on the NBC Red Network was a summer replacement for the Jack Benny program. On January 4, 1948, Froman joined the cast of The Pause That Refreshes, a Sunday evening music program sponsored by Coca-Cola on CBS. It was her first regular role on radio after the plane crash. There she joined Henry Thies’ orchestra and was a featured vocalist on a number of Thies’ Victor recordings. Convinced she was star material, Ross became her unofficial manager and persuaded her to move to Chicago where he worked for NBC radio. In 1933 Froman moved to New York City where she appeared on Chesterfield’s Music that Satisfies radio program with Bing Crosby. In 1948, Froman joined the cast of The Pause That Refreshes, a Sunday night music program on CBS.
In 1933, Froman joined the Ziegfeld Follies, where she was befriended by Fannie Brice. In 1934, at age 27, she became the top-polled “girl singer.” The famous composer and producer Billy Rose, when asked to name the top ten female singers, is reported to have replied, “Jane Froman and nine others.” Radio listeners apparently agreed with Rose, because Froman emerged atop a nationwide poll as “the number-one female singer on the radio” in 1934. She is credited with three movies, Kissing Time (1933), Stars Over Broadway (1935) and Radio City Revels (1938). Beginning October 15, 1952, Froman was host of Jane Froman’s U.S.A. Canteen, a 30-minute CBS Saturday program in which “talented members of the armed services appeared with Froman.” On December 30, 1952, the length was reduced to 15 minutes with a twice-a-week schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The title was changed to The Jane Froman Show in late 1953. It ended June 23, 1955. The very first hit song to be introduced on television, I Believe, was written for Froman by the show’s musicians, Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman, and earned her a gold record in 1953.
She was severely injured by an aircraft crash on February 22, 1943 when a USO plane, a Boeing 314 named Yankee Clipper (tail number NC18603) was carrying Froman and 38 others. When Yankee Clipper was banking into a turn for approach, a wingtip caught a wave, whereupon she crashed into the Tagus River in Lisbon, Portugal. One of fifteen survivors, Froman sustained severe injuries: a cut below the left knee nearly severing her leg, multiple fractures of her right arm, and a compound fracture of her right leg that doctors threatened to amputate. Froman had given her seat to another passenger, Tamara Drasin, who was killed in the crash, an action which her biographer Ilene Stone said “bothered her her whole life.” The co-pilot, John Curtis Burn, who broke his back in the crash, fashioned a makeshift raft from portions of the wrecked plane to help keep himself and Froman afloat. After being rescued, they were sent to the same convalescent home, where they battled their long recoveries together. Less than a year after the crash, Froman returned to Broadway to perform in a revue, Artists and Models. She wore a leg brace and sat in a wheel chair after having had 13 operations for her injuries. Froman underwent 39 operations over the years. She fought amputation and wore a leg brace the remainder of her life. She returned to Europe and entertained American troops in 1945. Despite having to walk with crutches, she gave 95 shows throughout Europe. During the late 40s Froman became addicted to painkillers and, when they didn’t ease the pain, supplemented them with alcohol. However, she successfully overcame both problems subsequently. On the March 1, 1953 episode of What’s My Line, Hal Block told Froman that he was supposed to be on the same flight.
Froman’s life story was the subject of the movie With a Song in My Heart (1952), starring Susan Hayward as Froman. Froman was deeply involved in the film’s production: she supplied Hayward’s singing voice and served as the film’s technical advisor. The Capitol album of songs from the movie was the number one best-selling album of 1952 and remained in the catalogue for many years. DRG recently re-issued the album on a compact disc along with the 1952 revival cast album of Pal Joey, in which Froman sang the role made famous by Vivienne Segal, Vera Simpson. A Choice CD called Jane Froman on Capitol is a collection of her Capitol Records singles and tracks from albums. From 1952-1955 Jane starred on CBS-TV. Her first program, USA Canteen, had servicemen in the audience. The program was renamed The Jane Froman Show and the format was changed to a twice weekly 15 minute program on Tuesdays and Thursdays. After the show was canceled in 1956, Froman appeared on various programs for the next few years. She also appeared on stage in Las Vegas. Froman died April 22, 1980, at her home in Columbia of cardiac arrest caused by chronic heart and lung disease. She had never completely recovered from an automobile accident on December 24, 1979. Her funeral was held April 25, 1980, in Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia. She is buried at the Columbia Cemetery.
- November, 10, 1907
- University City, Missouri
- April, 22, 1980
- Columbia, Missouri
Cause of Death
- cardiac arrest
- Columbia Cemetery
- Columbia, Missouri