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 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.
With her film debut in Every Night at Eight (1935) the diminutive five-foot-one-inch star introduced what became her signature song: "I'm in the Mood for Love." She then began appearing frequently in films such as Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) (in which she popularized "Broadway Rhythm" and "You Are My Lucky Star"), Born to Dance (1936) andYankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney, in which (portraying Nora Bayes) she performed the popular song "Over There" and also popularized "Dixie Jamboree" and "Radio Stars on Parade". In the Western "Deputy Marshal", she co-starred with her first husband, matinee idol Jon Hall. In several of these films, such as Broadway Melody, she appeared as herself, as she did in 1953 in The Glenn Miller Story where she sang "Chattanooga Choo Choo" with the Modernaires and the movie orchestra.
World War II
From 1941, Langford was a regular singer on Bob Hope's "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 U.S.O. tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific, entertaining thousands of G.I.'s 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 U.S.O. show in the South Pacific, Langford stood up on a stage to sing before a huge crowd of G.I.'s. 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 G.I.'s. 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.
She worked for several years in the late 1940s on Spike Jones' show and starred in a short-lived DuMont variety show Star Time (1950). As a guest on early television shows such as Perry Como and Jackie Gleason she was motivated to venture into television. She was the host of two self titled variety television programs. She then teamed with Don Amechefor the ABC television program, The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show (1951), a spin-off of their successful radio series The Bickersons in which the duo played a feuding married couple. Langford was also the host of the NBC musical variety program Frances Langford Presents (1959), which lasted one season, as did a later program "The Frances Langford Show" (1960). Another notable appearance was in The Honeymooners lost episode "Christmas Party" which first aired December 19, 1953.
Marriages and later life
Frances Langford married three times. Her first husband, from 1934 until 1955, was actor Jon Hall. In 1948 they donated 20 acres (81,000 m2) of land near her estate in Jensen Beach, Florida to the Board of County Commissioners of Martin County, which named it Langford Hall Park. Located at 2369 N.E. Dixie Highway just south of the Stuart Welcome Arch, it is known today simply as Langford Park and is one of the county's major parks.
After leaving Hollywood life, she kept up her pastimes of boating and sport fishing. While nightclub singing, in 1955 she married Outboard Marine Corporation President Ralph Evinrude. They lived on her estate in Jensen Beach and built a Polynesian-themed restaurant and marina on the Indian River they named The Frances Langford Outrigger Resort, where Langford frequently performed. Locals and celebrities flocked to the site. Evinrude died in 1986. In 1994, she married Harold C. Stuart, who had served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Affairs of the United States Air Force from 1949 to 1951 under President Harry S. Truman. They spent the summers in Canada on Georgian Island. They journeyed to the Island from their home in Florida aboard their 110 foot yacht "The Chanticleer", which was a popular tourist attraction when moored at the Outrigger Resort. Stuart survived Langford (who had no children); he died in 2007 at the age of 94.
Langford was a supportive member of the Jensen Beach community and constantly donated money to the community. She was a great philanthropist and her generosity to the Florida Oceanographic Society located on Hutchinson Island, Stuart, Florida was well known. The site provides education and research of the ocean, reefs and environment in the Florida area. The visitors center bears her name and also houses some of her artifacts. Her collection of mounted tuna, marlin and other fish adorn the walls.
Health problems plagued her in the last years of her life with periodic hospital stays. She died at her Jensen Beach home at age 92 from congestive heart failure. According to her wishes, she was cremated and the ashes strewn off the coast of Florida near her residence. In 2006, the Frances Langford Heart Center, made possible by a bequest from her estate, opened at Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, Florida.