A beautiful starlet with a voice to match, Dinah Shore surely created Blues in the Night for American GIs, but if you had asked their opinions of Frances Rose Shore, the reactions would have likely been a blank stare.
Shore, a polio survivor who overcame a limp caused by the disease, unwittingly earned the nickname Dinah when a disc jockey heard her sing Ethel Water’s Dinah during an audition. He couldn’t remember the up-and-comer’s name, so he called her the “Dinah girl.” It stuck throughout her more than 50 years in entertainment.
After her mother’s sudden death during her teen years, Shore’s father wanted her to focus on school. The Tennessee native obliged, graduating from Vanderbilt in 1938 with a degree in sociology, but she couldn’t shake the show business bug.
Shortly after graduating, Shore headed for New York and the audition that changed her name and her fate. Radio station WNEW hired her to sing with an unknown named Frank Sinatra. She also sang with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra before landing her own deal with RCA Victor records, where she recorded her first hit, Yes, My Darling Daughter. By 1943, she added movie credits to her resume.
With the war in full swing, Shore participated in Command Performance programs for Armed Forces Radio and traveled to Europe to entertain troops in person. She also was a regular at the Hollywood Canteen.
The memories she created for the troops who saw her perform left lasting impressions and sometimes resulted in tangible tributes.
Jay Wingate was an engineer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division and landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, on June 7, 1944—the day after D-Day. The unit was charged with rebuilding bridges that had been destroyed in previous fighting.
In a May 2012 interview with Delaware’s Cape Gazette newspaper, Wingate recalled his unit building four bridges across the Seine River—two from one shore to an island in the middle, and two from the island to the far shore—in just five days. He remembers the French telling them it took the Germans three months to build one bridge between the shore and the island.
He also remembered a break in the construction. “Dinah Shore came and sang to us. It was the only time we ever had something like that happen during the war,” Wingate said. “We just stopped work for about an hour. Right in the middle of the war. I can’t imagine, to think back on it. So we named the bridge ‘The Dinah Shore Bridge.’”
Wingate’s unit may have only gotten one visit from entertainers during the war, but entertainers often didn’t have an easy time finding audiences. Shore, widely reported as the first female celebrity to perform for troops on the front lines, wrote home about her experience on the “Moo” circuit, referring to the cow pastures in which entertainers often found themselves performing. Frank Rose included an excerpt in his book, Agency: William Morris and the Hidden History of Show Business. “I can truthfully say that I have sung in some of the best pastures in France,” Shore wrote. “It’s really quite an experience, and the most difficult part is lassoing an audience long enough to do a show.”
After the war, the USO presented Shore with an award for her service on its behalf, and she enjoyed continued success in music, movies, TV and philanthropy.
Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.