[JPL] Connie Haines dies at 87; big band singer co-starred with Sinatra

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Connie Haines dies at 87; big band singer co-starred with Sinatra
By Don Heckman
Special to The Times

September 26, 2008

Connie Haines, a petite and dynamic big band singer who performed alongside
Frank Sinatra in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey orchestras, died Monday in
Clearwater, Fla. The cause of death was myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune
neuromuscular disease. She was 87.

Haines was best known as a singer with a knack for rhythm, and many of her
most successful recordings -- 25 of which each sold more than 50,000 copies
-- featured her crisp, swinging vocal style.

When Dorsey first heard her in action with James at Frank Dailey's
Meadowbrook, New Jersey's temple of big band music, he reportedly asked,
"Hey, little girl, where'd you learn to swing like that? And when can you
join my band?"

It didn't take long. Haines recorded "Comes Love" and "I Can't Afford to
Dream" with James, revealing a capacity to handle lyrical ballads as well as
jitterbug specials, before moving to the Dorsey organization with Sinatra.

James, however, was not fond of Haines' birth name -- Yvonne Marie
Antoinette JaMais -- suggesting that it would take up too much space on a
theater marquee. "You don't look like an Yvonne," he said, "you look like a
Connie." And "Haines" was chosen, apparently because it was a close rhyme to
"James."

Haines quickly made the name her own, however, establishing herself as one
of the prime female singers of the big band era. Many of her hit songs were
the product of a warm musical partnership with Sinatra via tunes such as
"Oh, Look At Me Now," "Let's Get Away From It All," "Friendship," "I'll
Never Smile Again" and the jaunty rhythm tune "Snooty Little Cutie."

Like many big band vocalists of the '40s, Haines moved on to a solo career
as the public's preferences turned away from large ensemble swing to
singers. Over the course of the next few decades, she released more than 200
recordings, ranging from her big band stylings to more contemporary rhythms.

The first white singer to record for Motown Records, she released 14 songs
written by Smokey Robinson, including "What's Easy For Two Is Hard For One."

Haines also was drawn to gospel music as a reflection of her Christian
beliefs, recording and touring in an ensemble that included close friends
Beryl Davis, Rhonda Fleming and Jane Russell.

Although her career as an actress tended to be framed in films that allowed
her to perform as a singer, Haines' appearances in motion pictures such as
"The Duchess of Idaho" suggested a talent that never had the opportunity to
fully blossom within her lifelong dedication to music.

She was a regular on the Abbott & Costello Radio Show and a frequent guest
artist during the golden years of television variety shows, appearing with
Milton Berle, Eddie Cantor, Perry Como, Frankie Laine and Ed Sullivan, among
others.

Haines sang on Sinatra's 89th birthday television tribute in 1995, and
continued to work in cabaret rooms, nightclubs and big band revival events
until two years ago.

Born Jan. 20, 1921, in Savannah, Ga., she was reared in Florida and began
performing at an early age, trained by her mother, a music and dance
teacher.

Haines was winning dance contests by the age of 5. At 9, she had her own
radio show -- "Baby Yvonne Marie, the Little Princess of the Air," singing
with a 30-piece orchestra.

She appeared with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra when she was 10, won a Major
Bowes amateur contest and was heard on the Fred Allen radio show while she
was still in her early teens. By 1939, Haines -- at age 18 and slightly less
than 5 feet tall -- was singing alongside Sinatra in the Harry James Band.

She survived several health crises and near-fatal accidents. While
performing with the Dorsey Orchestra, an errant match set her evening gown
on fire. Sinatra, standing nearby, pulled her to the floor and smothered the
flames with his coat. In her characteristic fashion, Haines brushed herself
off, got up and finished her song, wearing only the charred dregs of her
gown.

Haines was treated for cancer and had a double mastectomy in 1984. But once
again, the experience did not deter her from continuing her musical
activities and moving on with her life.

In 2002, after a celebratory holiday performance in Florida, Haines broke
two vertebrae in her neck in an auto accident. She was back singing again in
six months, although the after-effects of the injury never fully
disappeared.

"Connie often talked about her fascination with near-death experiences --
even told me she had one when she was 9 years old," said close friend
Roseanne DeMarco, "but she found joy in every day. The funny thing was that,
even when she was feeling ill, her vital signs always seemed fine, as though
she loved life so much that she wanted to experience every minute of it that
she could."

Haines' marriage to Robert DeHaven, an ace pilot during World War II, ended
in divorce.

She is survived by her mother, Mildred JaMais, who is 109; a son, Robert
DeHaven Jr. of San Francisco; a daughter, Kimberly Harlan of Prineville,
Ore.; and three grandchildren.
 




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