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Sunday 18 November 2018

Connie Haines

Performer who sang with Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey band

IN THE history of American popular music, there have been few better judges of talent than the trombonist, Tommy Dorsey. At its peak in the early Forties, his band featured musicians Buddy Berigan, Buddy Rich and Joe Bushkin as well as vocalists Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford and Connie Haines.

Unfortunately, the egos were so immense, especially those of Rich and Sinatra, that backstage arguments were frequent. Although Haines and Sinatra often sang romantic duets, Haines would direct her lines to some handsome GI in the audience, delighting the crowds but aggravating Sinatra.

At one point, Sinatra told the equally bad-tempered Dorsey to fire her, and Dorsey responded by sacking Sinatra instead. The little-known Milburn Stone, later Doc Adams in the TV series Gunsmoke, took his place until Sinatra, totally out of character, apologised and returned.

Connie Haines was born Yvonne Marie Antoinette JaMais in 1921 in Savannah, Georgia, but was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, after her parents separated. Her mother taught singing and dancing, and her best pupil was her daughter. When only five, she was winning talent contests and, from the age of 10, she was regularly on local radio as "Baby Yvonne Marie, the Little Princess of the Air". Her popularity grew as she had some national broadcasts with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra.

When JaMais was 17, she was demonstrating songs for songwriters in the Brill Building in New York when she was heard by Harry James. He invited her to join his orchestra but thought that she needed a new stage name and created Connie Haines. Around the same time, he foolishly suggested to Frank Sinatra that he sounded too Italian and would fare better as Frankie Satin. James had a visit from Sinatra's mother who told him, "His name is Sinatra and it is going to stay Sinatra."

The two singers fared well with James's orchestra but they both left when he reneged on their wage agreement. Haines auditioned for Tommy Dorsey, who said, "Where did you learn to swing like that, and when can you join my band?" She found Dorsey an invaluable coach who taught her to phrase correctly and held that singing was "acting to music".

In an early example of audience participation, Dorsey encouraged listeners to his Fame and Fortune radio programme to send in their compositions. In 1941, Connie Haines was featured on You Might Have Belonged To Another from Pat West and Lucille Harman, and Oh! Look At Me Now, a lyric from an advertising salesman, John DeVries, with music from Joe Bushkin.

The sprightly song, which featured Haines and Sinatra, made No 2 on the US charts.

Possibly because Haines and Sinatra had little feeling for each other, their romantic duets are less slushy than others of the period. Let's Get Away From It All is a masterpiece of big band arranging with snappy vocals and asides. from both performers which were magnified in concert, where neither would be sure what the other would say.

On one broadcast Haines sang, "We'll spend a weekend in Dixie, I'll get a real Southern drawl," and Sinatra responded, "Another one."

Dorsey attempted to repeat the winning formula with the inferior Snootie Little Cutie, the title used for a biography of Haines by Richard Grudens in 2000. She wrote her autobiography, For Once In My Life, in 1976. Haines's solo performances with Dorsey's orchestra include Kiss The Boys Goodbye, What Is This Thing Called Love?, Birds Of A Feather and You're Dangerous.

Connie Haines appeared in two films with the orchestra, Las Vegas Nights (1941) and Ship Ahoy (1942). Haines left in 1942 to become the featured vocalist on Abbott & Costello's radio series. She sang Gee, I Love My GI Joe with Freddie Rich's band in the wartime film, A Wave, a WAC and a Marine (1944).

Branching out as a solo singer, Haines recorded for many of the major labels, including Capitol and Mercury and was the first white female singer to record for Tamla Motown. However, she had a steady rather than spectacular career. She appeared in The Duchess of Idaho (1950) and Birth of a Band (1954) and recorded a tribute album to the singer Helen Morgan in 1957. She also teamed up with Jane Russell and the British singer Beryl Davis for gospel recordings.

Haines appeared on many TV variety programmes, including shows hosted by Frankie Laine and Ed Sullivan. She was performing regularly until she was 80 and, letting bygones be bygones, she appeared in an 80th birthday tribute for Frank Sinatra in 1995.

She married Robert DeHaven, a Second World War pilot who had shot down 14 Japanese planes, but the marriage ended in divorce. Haines is survived not only by her two children but also by her mother, Mildred JaMais, who is 109 years old.

© Independent

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