Frances Langford

Perhaps Lakeland Florida’s most well-known native, Julia Frances Langford (April 4, 1913 – July 11, 2005) was an American singer and entertainer who was popular during the Golden Age of Radio and also made film appearances over two decades. Her work with the United Service Organization entertaining troops from World War II through Vietnam made her voice recognizable to American soldiers over decades. She once said, “Entertaining our troops was the greatest thing in my life.”

Langford was born in Hernando, Florida, a small town in Citrus County, Florida, she was the daughter of Anna Rhea Newbern and her husband, Vasco Cleveland Langford. The Langford family later moved to Lakeland, Florida, where Frances grew up. She graduated from Lakeland High School and studied music at Florida Southern College, also in Lakeland. (1)

Frances grew up in the Mulberry, Florida area, a tiny community near Lakeland. She attended Lakeland High School. Langford originally trained as an opera singer. While a young girl she required a tonsillectomy that changed her soprano range to a rich contralto. As a result, she was forced to change her vocal style to a more contemporary big band, popular music style. At age 17, she was singing for local dances. Cigar manufacturer Eli Witt heard her sing at an American Legion party and hired her to sing on his local radio show. After a brief stint in the Broadway musical “Here Goes the Bride” in 1931, she moved to Hollywood appearing on the Louella Parsons’ radio show “‘Hollywood Hotel’ while starting a movie career. While singing for radio during the early 1930s, she was heard by Rudy Vallee, who invited her to become a regular on his radio show. From 1935 until 1938 she was a regular performer on Dick Powell’s radio show. From 1946 to 1951, she performed with Don Ameche as the insufferable wife, Blanche, on The Bickersons.

From 1941, Langford was a regular singer on Bob Hope’s The Pepsodent Show when he held his first military entertainment program at March Field in Riverside, California in 1941. The show was so positive, he continued broadcasting from training bases around the country and asked Langford to join him. During World War II, she joined Hope, Jerry Colonna, guitarist Tony Romano, and other performers on USO tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of GIs throughout the world. During a USO tour in the Pacific theater she was invited to take a ride in a P-38 fighter plane. During the flight, a Japanese ship was spotted and the joy ride was postponed until the pilot finished strafing the ship.

In his memoir, Don’t Shoot! It’s Only Me!, Bob Hope recalled how Frances Langford got the biggest laugh he had ever heard. At a USO show in the South Pacific, Langford stood up on a stage to sing before a huge crowd of GIs. When Langford sang the first line of her signature song, “I’m in the Mood for Love,” a soldier in the audience stood up and shouted, “You’ve come to the right place, honey!”

Also, during the war, Langford wrote the weekly “Purple Heart Diary” column for Hearst Newspapers, in which she described her visits to military hospitals to entertain wounded GIs. She used the weekly column as a means of allowing the recovering troops to voice their complaints, and to ask for public support for making sure that the wounded troops received all the supplies and comforts they needed.

Her association with Hope continued into the 1980s. In 1989 she joined him for a USO tour to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf.

—- Brief Biography from Wikipedia on March 20, 2019

(1) A brief search of the Lakeland High School yearbooks from 1928-1932 show Langford as a freshman in 1928 and she doesn’t appear in any class photos after that year. — cgw

2013 Rededication Sign and Ceremony Thank You Page

Thanks to David Dickey, Tom Hagerty, Chuck Welch, Abhishek Mukherjee, and the Lakeland Library History Room for photos and video.

And a special thanks to every person and organization that reminds Lakelanders about the Frances Langford Promenade.