Date Posted: 2009-06-15
The Heart and Soul” of Connie
By Alan Eichler
Whether best-remembered as the “Nightingale from Savannah” or the “Snootie
Little Cutie” of the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James orchestras, there is no question that Connie Haines is without doubt among the most versatile and distinctive of all big-band vocalists. One of the few singers who could hold her own both on stage and on record opposite Frank Sinatra in his prime, she has performed for more than 60 years, excelling in virtually every type of music from ballads and swing to blues and gospel.
Though Connie has amassed a huge number of recordings over all that time,
including many classic hits for a variety of major labels, they were mostly released as singles with precious few LPs and CD’s to her credit. Hopefully, that is now being rectified with the addition of this new Audiophile collection of 23 standards that Connie made in the early 1950’s backed by the Russ Case Orchestra. They show her off in all her many facets — cute and bubbly, sultry and demure, smoothly crooning or energetically belting.
From ballads like “That Old Feeling,” “Hello, Young Lovers” and “My Foolish Heart,” to such swinging favorites as “Old Man Mose,” “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” and “How Come You Do Me Like You Do,” Connie is beautifully showcased in gems that were initially intended only for broadcast by the Lang-Worth Transcription service and which are now being commercially released for the first time, in beautifully-restored digital sound.
Born Yvonne Marie Antoinette Ja Mais in Savannah, GA on Jan. 20, 1921, she was performing by the age of four and starred on her own radio show on a Jacksonville, FL affiliate of the NBC network when she was 10. Billed as “The Little Princess of the Air,” her fame spread quickly and at 14 she became the youngest performer to ever appear on the stage of the Roxy Theatre in New York.
In 1939, after short stints with Howard Lally and Charlie Barnet, she was asked to join the newly-formed band of trumpet player Harry James, who changed her name to the simpler “Connie Haines” because he thought it would rhyme with “James”. They were soon joined by a young crooner whom James heard at New Jersey’s Rustic Inn — Frank Sinatra.
Though they enjoyed long and successful engagements at such major venues as the Steel Pier in Atlantic City and the Paramount Theatre in New York, the overhead for the band was high and James struggled to keep it afloat. Sinatra left when Tommy Dorsey offered him the larger salary of $125 a week and a few months later, Connie was forced to do the same. As fate would have it, Dorsey happened to hear her at New Jersey’s popular Meadowbrook and she was asked to join the Dorsey band as female star alongside Sinatra and the Pied Pipers (featuring Jo Stafford).
This new combination exploded, making big-band history with a string of hits that included “Let’s Get Away From It All,” “Oh, Look At Me Now,” “I’ll Never Smile Again,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Will You Still Be Mine” and of course “Snootie Little Cutie.”
Connie then ventured out onto her own, first as featured vocalist on the Abbott and Costello radio program, followed by headline engagements at the country’s top theatres and nightclubs, a co-starring role in the MGM musical “Duchess of Idaho” with Esther Williams and Van Johnson and a series of solo recordings for Mercury, Signature and Coral. In 1954, she recorded a spiritual album with Jane Russell, Beryl Davis and Rhonda Fleming, which produced an unexpected pop hit, “Do Lord.” Connie re-teamed with Jane and Beryl for an inspirational album on Capitol and they
toured together periodically for the next several decades, whenever their various schedules permitted.
Meanwhile, Connie’s solo career continued in high gear with concerts and TV appearances (including a popular series with Frankie Laine). She recorded an album salute to the legendary Helen Morgan and a collection of hymns for RCA Victor and then rocked into the 60’s and 70’s as the first white singer to sign with Motown Records, cutting 14 sides written by Smokey Robinson.
Connie has performed for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson and in 1988 was presented with the Courage Award by President Reagan for her personal strength in overcoming cancer and her extensive work on behalf of the American Cancer Society. She recorded the successful album “I Am What I Am,” wrote the autobiographical “For Once In My Life,” and maintained a full-time touring schedule into the late 1990’s.
Now semi-retired in her Clearwater, FL home, Connie continues to make occasional appearances with the same vigor and verve that her fans have always cherished her for. This new Audiophile collection will help preserve her legacy for those who have remained faithful all these years, as well as introduce her to new generations who may just now be discovering her for the first time. Either way, it is a most welcome addition to the recorded work of Connie Haines.