Jane Froman was born on November 10, 1907 in University City, Missouri, into a large, musically talented family. At the age of three, she was already singing with her mother and by the age of 6, people were noting her remarkable singing voice, although she stuttered badly when speaking. The stutter started around the time her father left and never returned.
Jane and her mother returned to the family home in Clinton, where Jane boarded at a convent school whenever her mother had to leave town to give piano lessons. It was a lonely childhood, in which she developed an unusually strong bond with her mother, who was also her voice teacher. Her earliest singing in public was at church services, where she often sang solo.
In spite of her excellent training in the classics, Jane was drawn to the popular music of the day -- Gershwin, Berlin, Porter. Stubbornly, she followed her own instincts in spite of her mother’s objections, While still a student at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Jane became an enormously popular singing star on radio, and later sang with Paul Whiteman’s band in Chicago. During this time she met Don Ross, also in show business, and married him. Ross became her manager.
In the early 1930s, Jane and Don went to Hollywood where she made a couple of movies, but her movie career never took off, as her stutter could not be covered up in long speaking parts. She appeared in New York in the Ziegfeld Follies and went on to do a couple of Broadway plays, and headlined at the hottest night clubs.
Her career was still climbing when World War II broke out. She was one of the first performers to volunteer to bring entertainment to the troops here and abroad. On her USO flight to Europe in February of 1943, her plane crashed in the Tagus River outside Portugal. One of the few passengers to survive, although severely injured, she was rescued by the co-pilot of the plane, John Curtis Burn.
Doctors wanted to amputate her leg, but miraculously, it was saved, and she was sent to a convalescent home. John Curtis Burn was also there, recovering from a broken back. The threat of amputation was with Jane all through her recovery and eventual comeback, as infection set in again and again.
In addition to her show, Jane made frequent guest appearances on Paul Whiteman's Goodyear Revue, Milton Berle’s Texaco Star Theater, the Jackie Gleason Show, Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town, the Jimmy Durante Show and many other TV shows, and starred in the biggest nightclubs in the country.
After a career that lasted almost three decades, she returned to her hometown of Columbia, Missouri, where she married an old college chum, Rowland Haw Smith, a newspaperman with the Columbia Daily Tribune. They built a home and settled down. Her retirement was one of community service and playing an active role in starting a music colony at Arrow Rock.
Jane’s health was fragile from years of grueling operations on her leg and back, and in her last years, she rarely traveled, but fans continued to write and visit her. On April 22, 1980, she died of cardiac arrest in her home at the age of 73.
When Jane discovered she still had her voice, she was eager to return to work, and appeared on Broadway in Artists and Models, still in a cast up to her hip. Beautiful gowns and long gloves covered her scars, while sets were designed to accommodate her inability to walk. The show was not great, but Jane was, and she won the acclaim of critics and the public alike.
While still on crutches, Jane returned to Europe to fulfill her commitment to the USO and in 1945 spent three months traveling throughout war-torn Europe to bring entertainment to the troops and hope to the wounded.
She returned to the night club circuit, getting around on a platform on wheels that she shared with a piano, a piano player, and a microphone. Standing upright with the help of a brace and a chain, she moved about the club floor as the pianist controlled the switches, resulting in an intimate show where Jane could move through the audience.
Jane’s marriage to Don Ross was breaking up, and they divorced. Her leg injury continued to plague her, and she had undergone dozens of operations, as infection kept undoing all the good that the operations provided. With each operation, the threat existed that she would lose her leg. It wasn’t until she met Dr. Cleveland Mather at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York, who used new and modern techniques to treat her leg, that she was able to put that worry behind her once and for all.
In March, 1948, Jane married John Curtis Burn, the pilot who had rescued her in the 1943 plane crash. They moved to Coral Gables, Florida, where Jane could heal in the Florida sun.
After all the operations, the steady stream of drugs used to ease the pain, and a deep depression resulting from the last flare-up with her leg, Jane went into what her doctors called “battle fatigue.” They urged her to check in to the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. She did, and after six months of rest and therapy, was able to leave, restored in mind and body.
A movie was made of her life, With a Song in My Heart, with Susan Hayward in the starring role. Jane’s voice provided the 26 songs on the soundtrack. Susan Hayward was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.
Shortly after the release of With a Song in My Heart, Jane’s popularity soared again, and CBS offered Jane her own television show, which remained on the air through 1955. At about that time, her marriage to John Burn ended.