COLUMBIA — At the height of her career, Jane Froman toured Europe entertaining American World War II soldiers, and let young fans model her jewelry and old ball gowns. At the height of her retirement, Froman helped produce children’s musicals in mid-Missouri.
Locals remember Froman for the charitable work she did in mid-Missouri throughout her retirement. Froman fans from around the world are drawn to the ravishing voice they hear on old records and films. Once a year, many of her fans meet in Columbia, the town Froman called home, to reminisce about the woman who brightened their lives.
Jane Froman Centennial events will take place Friday through Sunday throughout Columbia. All events are free and open to the public. Some highlights include: • Opening ceremonies; 7 p.m. Friday in Launer Auditorium , Columbia College, 901 Rogers St., followed by a showing of “With a Song in My Heart.” • The Jane Froman Centennial Film and Video Festival, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Boone County Historical Society Museum, 3801 Ponderosa St. • Centennial Concert Tribute to Jane Froman, featuring the Jane Froman Singers and guest singer Valerie Lemon, 7 p.m. Saturday, Launder Auditorium. • For a complete listing of events or for more information, go to The Jane Froman Centennial Web site at janefroman.com or Columbia College’s Centennial Concert Tribute to The Jane Froman Web site at ccis.edu/fromantribute.
Full name: Ellen Jane Froman Born: Nov. 10, 1907 in University City, part of the St. Louis area Formal education: Associate of arts degree in 1926 from Christian College, now known as Columbia College. She also graduated in 1924 from high school at Christian College and spent about a year at the Missouri School of Journalism. A 1927 Savitar yearbook includes her. Big break: in 1931 with NBC’s “Florsheim Frolics” radio show in Chicago. Best known for: “The Chesterfield Hour” radio show, entertaining World War II soldiers and her singing in “With a Song in My Heart,” a biopic depicting her life. She also did Broadway shows, nightclub acts and had her own television show, “The Jane Froman Show,” from 1952 to 1955. Inspiration: to many after surviving a plane crash in 1943. She endured 39 surgeries and fought the amputation of her right leg for the rest of her life. In less than a year after the crash, she was back on stage (often strapped to a piano platform) earning money to pay her medical bills and keeping her promise to perform for soldiers. Retired: in 1961 to Columbia where she devoted her time and efforts to community causes until her death in 1980.
Froman Fun Facts
• Froman was a fan of the Beatles. One of her favorite songs was “Yesterday.” • She is one of few celebrities to have three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She has one each for her work in radio, music and television. • Froman began writing her autobiography but never finished it. Excerpts from it can be read in Ilene Stone’s biography, “Jane Froman: Missouri’s First Lady of Song.” • Froman’s mother, Anna Barcafer, taught at both Columbia College and Stephens College. • Her last public performance was given in 1971 at the celebration of Missouri’s 150th year of statehood.
Elizabeth Kennedy, who attended Calvary Episcopal Church with Froman during the 1960s and is part of the Jane Froman Centennial planning committee, said that most people become interested in Froman after watching 1952’s “With a Song in My Heart.” The film depicts Froman’s life from the beginning of her career until her return to the U.S. after performing for World War II soldiers overseas in 1945.
“Everyone wants to know what happened to this extraordinary woman after the movie ends, what she did the rest of her life,” Kennedy said, “and it always brings them here.”
In her latest Froman biography, “Jane Froman: Missouri’s First Lady of Song,” Ilene Stone tells of the many endeavors Froman undertook in the years after her return to the U.S. and when she retired to Columbia. Froman served on Columbia College’s Board of Trustees, volunteered for the local United Fund and YWCA, helped with the production and fundraising of musicals in Arrow Rock, auditioned locals for chances to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera and spent time with her fans.
A survivor of near-fatal injuries from a plane crash, she was also an advocate for physical and emotional health, often donating time to visit children’s hospitals and take part in benefits for mid-Missouri hospitals. The Rehabilitation Institute of Missouri continues to give an award in Froman’s name every year to the patient there “who has done the most to overcome a disability.”
Stone, a retired San Diego Community College professor who will be at this weekend’s Jane Froman Centennial, began researching Froman after seeing “With a Song in My Heart” in 1992. By 1997, Stone had self-published the first biography ever written on Froman, “One Little Candle: Remembering Jane Froman.” In 2000, she was asked by the University of Missouri Press to write “Jane Froman: Missouri’s First Lady of Song” for the Missouri Heritage Reading Series. Stone continues to make the trek to Columbia at least once a year to visit other Froman fans, people she calls an “extended family” of wonderfully diverse people.
People who didn’t know Froman from her efforts in Columbia, hadn’t seen the Froman film or listened to her records have still managed to get swept into what Deb Thompson, executive director of the Boone County Historical Society and Museum and part of the centennial planning committee, calls “the elegant sense of purpose that all of her admirers know and try to keep alive.”
Valerie Lemon, for example, has been working in the performing arts for the past three decades. Four years ago, Lemon had never heard of Froman — until she had a dream in which Froman appeared.
“There was a big Victorian oak door that I opened and there stood Jane Froman in a ball gown and she introduced herself to me,” she said. Lemon said that after she woke, she punched Froman’s name into an Internet search engine and discovered that she and Froman shared not only the same passion for performing, but had both endured serious surgeries and used their love of theater as motivation to heal.
Shortly after her “introduction” to Froman, Lemon began putting together a Jane Froman cabaret tribute show, “The Jane Froman Songbook: With a Song in My Heart.” The planning brought her to Columbia and she ultimately become part of the ever-expanding Froman fan base.
Lemon has been performing the tribute around the country since 2004 and can be seen this weekend as part of the centennial celebration. Lemon said she hopes to add an orchestra and expand the show.
“My whole experience with Jane has been amazing,” Lemon said. “It’s like when you throw a pebble into water and watch the ripples keep expanding.”