Born: January 20, 1922 | Died: September 22, 2008 Primary Instrument: Vocal
Born Yvonne Jasme, big band vocalist Connie Haines began singing and dancing at an early age. Her big break came in 1935, at age 13, when she won an amateur contest on Fred Allen's NBC radio program. During the late 1930s she worked for Howard Lally's orchestra.
In 1939 bandleader Harry James heard Haines rehearsing at a New York music publishing company and hired her for his band, changing her name. She left the following year and kept busy with solo engagements around the New York area before being hired by Tommy Dorsey, where she joined former James bandmate Frank Sinatra.
In 1941 Haines landed the spot as featured vocalist on Abbott and Costello's radio program. She spent four years with the show. Haines has continued performing up to this day.
Haines made 200 recordings, including 24 records that sold more than 50,000 copies; regularly filled up prestigious nightclubs like the Latin Quarter in New York; and performed five times at the White House. Polls in music magazines in the 1940s rated her as one of the top female band singers.
While Sinatra specialized at the time in ballads and slow foxtrots, Haines threw herself into rhythmic up-tempo tunes. “Where did you learn to swing like that?” Dorsey asked when he first heard her at a club in New Jersey. “And when can you join my band?”
Her recordings including gospel, pop and soul, as well as big-band barnburners. The best-selling ones included “You Might Have Belonged to Another”; “Oh! Look at Me Now”; “What Is This Thing Called Love?”; and “Will You Still Be Mine?” A crowd favorite was “Snootie Little Cutie,” which often elicited ad libs from Sinatra.
She made the most of her sultry Southern accent, sometimes to Sinatra’s amusement. In her personalized rendition of “Let’s Get Away From It All,” she improvised, “We’ll spend a weekend in Dixie. I’ll get a real Southern drawl.” Sinatra piped in, “Another one?”
Miss Haines appeared on the radio with Abbott & Costello, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Jack Benny, among others. On television she appeared with Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Eddie Cantor and Perry Como. Her work on Frankie Laine’s variety show drew particular note. Her movies included her favorite, “Duchess of Idaho” (1950), with Esther Williams and Van Johnson.
Yvonne Marie Antoinette JaMais was born on Jan. 20, 1921, in Savannah, Ga., but grew up in Florida. Her mother, who taught voice and dance, pushed her talented daughter to excel. At 4, Yvonne appeared at the Bijou Theater in Savannah in a “Saucy Baby” show. At 5, Baby Yvonne Marie won state contests in the Charleston dance in Georgia and Florida.
At 9 she won a talent contest sponsored by Uncle Ralph Feathers, who in the South ran the sort of amateur contests for which Major Bowes was famous. Before she turned 10, she parlayed that into a regular radio show on the NBC affiliate in Jacksonville, Fla., billed as Baby Yvonne Marie, the Little Princess of the Air. At 10 she appeared with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and things accelerated even faster.
She won the actual Major Bowes contest in New York, and appeared on Fred Allen’s radio show. At 16 she was auditioning for a job in the Brill Building, headquarters of Tin Pan Alley. Harry James, the orchestra leader, happened to hear her and immediately hired her. But he asked her to change her name, saying she looked like a Connie. More pointedly, he said that if she used her full name, there would be no room for him on the marquee. At first she thought he had named her Ames, not Haines, and for a few days signed autographs that way.
After James ran into financial trouble, both singers ended up with Dorsey when he was adding a robustness and kick to his style, taking on an innovative new arranger, Sy Oliver, and six new vocalists. The others were Jo Stafford, who died on July 16, and the three-man vocal group the Pied Pipers. Miss Haines said that Dorsey taught her phrasing, how to take one big breath and let the words flow, she told The Tampa Tribune in 1998. He told her to always think of telling a story, of “acting to music.”
At one point when she was performing with Dorsey, she remembered, Sinatra saved her life. She was about to go on stage in Madison Square Garden when a smoker in a balcony tossed a match and set her ruffled tulle dress on fire. Sinatra threw his coat over her and fell on her, smothering the flames, she said.