Columbia native and Christian College alumna Jane Froman '26 (1907-1980) was one of the country's leading performers for more than three decades. Froman's life story was the subject of the 1952 hit movie With a Song in My Heart, starring Susan Hayward. So influential was she that composer and producer Billy Rose, when asked to name the top 10 female singers in the world, reportedly replied, "Jane Froman and nine others."
The college celebrated the 102nd birthday of Jane Froman '26Nov. 10 would have been Froman's 102nd birthday. To honor her legacy, the Jane Froman Singers presented a concert in Dorsey Chapel, Dorsey Hall, on her birthday. The concert was followed by a large, quite good birthday cake in the Jane Froman Studio.
on Nov. 10 with a concert in Dorsey Chapel
The Jane Froman Singers, formed in the early 1980s, are led by Nollie Moore, named director of the Singers in 1999 and instructor of music at Columbia College in 2001. The Singers are a mixed choral ensemble of 35-40 that performs primarily classic choral literature all over the world; last year, they performed in the Baroque cathedrals of Austria.
Two years ago in honor of what would have been Froman’s 100th birthday, a centennial celebration was held at Columbia College. The 2007 celebration included a tribute concert, films and discussion with Froman colleagues, friends and confidantes. A special DVD edition DVD of With a Song in my Heart with added new segments also premiered.
Singer Valerie Lemon performed "The Jane Froman Songbook" in Launer Auditorium, a personal tribute to Jane she presented in New York, but this time featuring the Jane Froman Singers under Nollie Moore's direction. Veterans were given front row seats, as was Froman's practice.
The Singers met and practiced in the Jane Froman studio in Dorsey Hall for decades. In October 2009, the Music department and Singers found a new home in the Kirkman House, located on the corner of Rogers and Tenth streets. This house was the home of Elizabeth Kirkman, dean of students for nearly 20 years.
Moore says he had heard of Jane Froman before he came to Columbia College. His first exposure to her music, he says, occurred one rainy afternoon as he was flipping channels and stumbled across the movie. "I remember finding it very moving," he says. Moore says he began to fully appreciate her as an artist during the centennial.
Froman was born on November 10, 1907 in University City, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. A historical plaque today marks the spot. She spent her childhood in the small Missouri town of Clinton, and her adolescence in the city of Columbia, which she always considered her hometown. Her parents separated when she was five. Jane began stuttering shortly afterward, and it plagued her all of her life -- except when she sang. Her stutter was to keep her from major motion picture roles.
In 1928, Jane auditioned as a vocalist for WLW, a Cincinnati radio station. By 1932 she was considered the outstanding female radio artist in America. Jane also performed in nightclubs, on Broadway, in motion pictures and in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies.
During World War II, at the peak of her career, Froman volunteered to travel for the USO. En route to a USO show in 1943, the seaplane she was traveling in crashed in the Tagus River, Lisbon, Portugal. The crash left only 15 survivors, Froman among them. She sustained horrible 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 stubbornly refused amputation, but wore a leg brace for much of the remainder of her life. She hid her immobility with elaborate moving stages and with long, flowing gowns. She ultimately endured 39 operations.
Froman returned for an astounding 95-show European USO Tour in 1945 and proclaimed the GI audiences the best she had ever had. Froman resumed her career in 1949, starring in her own radio and television shows.
In 1961, she returned to her adopted hometown of Columbia, where she married an old Columbia friend. Her retirement was marked by charitable and community service for Christian College (later Columbia College), the University of Missouri, the Easter Seal campaign, the Menninger Foundation and others.
Froman also sang at the college's centennial in 1951. The concert, delivered from the floodlit steps of St. Clair Hall, reportedly attracted 4,000 fans. She also persuaded the biggest stars of the day to the Christian-Columbia College campus, including the "First Lady of the American Theater" Helen Hayes, horror maven Vincent Price and opera star Rise Stevens.
She played a pivotal role in starting the artistic colony at Arrow Rock. In 1976, Froman became a Columbia College trustee.
But Jane’s health was fragile from years of grueling operations on her leg and back. She rarely traveled. On April 22, 1980, she died of cardiac arrest in Columbia at 73.
Today, the Jane Froman Singers under Moore give two to three concerts each semester and travel extensively. Recent concert tours have taken members to Beijing and the Great Wall, New York City's Carnegie Hall and to the great Cathedrals of Scotland, England, Austria, the Czech Republic and Canada.
Moore says that he only fully appreciated Froman when his son did a history project on her – focusing not on her music but on her extraordinary lifelong service.
"We love to lift up the music side of Jane," he says. "But the side of Jane that I find myself most touched by is her sense of service. She felt it was her duty to use her gift to better others' experience: the military of course, but also children and those with disabilities... I try to convey to my students that Froman embodied what it really means to be an artist: using your musical gifts to better society."
For more on the Music department, see their Web site.