Have you ever ventured through Lakeland and wondered who is behind the naming of certain roads, spots, or venues? Us too — particularly, Frances Langford, the namesake for the popular promenade on Lake Mirror.
Known as the “GI Nightingale,” Frances Langford spent much of her life right here in Lakeland in the 1910s. Known primarily for her Golden Age glamour, Frances was also a boater, fisherwoman, actress, radio personality, and opera singer.
After a tonsillectomy in her teens, the trained operatic singer had to re-learn a new vocal style, changing her sound to more of the “big band” type of music that she’s known for today as a contralto on the vocal scale. This means she went from the highest female voice type, a soprano, to the lowest — think Amy Winehouse, Tracey Chapman, and Cher.
First a Dreadnaught and later a Moc, Frances attended school at some of Lakeland’s finest institutions and got her start in performing at the age of 17, when she crossed paths with Eli Witt (you know, the cigar manufacturer). France’s fame was somewhat of an anomaly, if you compare it to today’s standards, making a name for herself primarily in radio while also dabbling in the big screen and stage performances.
From performing on Broadway in “Here Goes the Bride,” to popular radio shows, Frances made her silver screen debut in the 1935 film, “Every Night at Eight,” where she premiered her most well-known score, “I’m in the Mood for Love.”
Fast-forward to the 1940s, when Frances became known as the “GI Sweetheart” or “GI Nightingale.” The star performed alongside other big names like Bob Hope, Tony Romano, and Jerry Colonna on USO tours through Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific to visit injured GIs.
From there, Frances would live a life of stardom and adoration, with other notable appearances in radio and television such as “The Bickersons,” “The Frances Langford/Don Ameche Show,” “Deputy Marshal,” “Frances Langford Presents,” “The Frances Langford Show,” and “The Honeymooners.”
Making Floridians proud across the state, the star had multiple landmarks named after her including Langford Hall Park, her restaurant The Frances Langford Outrigger Resort in Jensen Beach, and Lakeland’s Frances Langford Promenade in 1946.
Frances lived to be 92, passing away in her Florida home in 2005 after a bout of congestive heart failure, but, we believe, her legacy will live on through landmarks like the one right here in Swan City.