Dinah Shore was an American singer, actress, and television personality. She was most popular during the Big Band era of the 1940s and 1950s.
After failing singing auditions for the bands of Benny Goodman and both Jimmy Dorsey and his brother Tommy Dorsey, Shore struck out on her own to become the first singer of her era to achieve huge solo success. She had a string of 80 charted popular hits, lasting from 1940 into the late ’50s, and after appearing in a handful of films went on to a four-decade career in American television, starring in her own music and variety shows in the ’50s and ’60s and hosting two talk shows in the ’70s. TV Guide magazine ranked her at #16 on their list of the top fifty television stars of all time. Stylistically, Dinah Shore was compared to two singers who followed her in the mid-to-late ’40s and early ’50s, Doris Day and Patti Page.
Born to Solomon and Anna Stein Shore, Jewish immigrants from Russia, young Frances Rose was born and lived in Winchester, Tennessee. When she was two years old, she was stricken with polio, a disease that was not preventable at the time, and for which treatment was limited to bed rest. Her parents provided intensive care for her and she recovered. She continued, however, to have a deformed foot and limp, which did not physically impede her. As a small child she loved to sing, encouraged by her mother, a contralto with operatic aspirations. Her father would often take her to his store where she would perform impromptu songs for the customers. She had a childhood recollection of her normally restrained father’s exasperated reaction one evening when the Ku Klux Klan paraded in Winchester; despite the hoods the marchers were wearing, Solomon Shore, a dry goods merchant, recognized some of his customers by their shoes and gaits. In 1924 the Shore family moved to McMinnville, Tennessee, where her father had opened a department store. Although shy because of her limp, she became actively involved in sports and was a cheerleader at Hume-Fogg High School and involved in other activities. At 14, Shore debuted as a torch singer at a Nashville night club only to find her parents sitting ringside, having been tipped off to their daughter’s performance ahead of time. They allowed her to finish, but put her professional career on hold. She was paid $10.
When Shore was 16, her mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and Shore decided to pursue her education. She went to Vanderbilt University, where she participated in many events and activities, including the Chi chapter of the Alpha Epsilon Phi Sorority. She graduated from the university in 1938 with a degree in sociology. She also visited the Grand Ole Opry and made her radio debut on Nashville’s WSM radio station in these years. She decided to return to pursuing her career in singing, so she went to New York City to audition for orchestras and radio stations, first on a summer break from Vanderbilt, and after graduation, for good. In many of her auditions, she sang the popular song “Dinah.” When disc jockey Martin Block could not remember her name, he called her the “Dinah girl,” and soon after the name stuck, becoming her stage name. She eventually was hired as a vocalist at radio station WNEW, where she sang with Frank Sinatra. She recorded and performed with the Xavier Cugat orchestra. She signed a recording contract with RCA Victor records in 1940.