We had great seats, front and center, and we were early to set up for picture taking. The concert hall was at the beautiful St. Mark Village in Palm Harbor, Florida, and as fans of the big bands we happily anticipated the appearance of the "Queen of Swing," the most popular female big band singer of the '40s and any other decade. That very definitely is Connie Haines.  Although we were first in, the hall, several hundred seats were filled within minutes and hundreds more stood in the halls outside to listen through speakers that were set up.

The band came out first and then Connie arrived to a standing ovation, the first of many she'd receive. There was no thought of this being a voice from the past. As the music began, those lovely eyes lit up and the years melted away, captivating us all.

In a voice still beautiful and steady she sang a number of favorites, from her days with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, ranging from swing to ballad. She moved us in every way, and at the end she sang a beloved hymn and a patriotic song.

Once the concert ended she sat at a table in front of the stage for a couple hours to freely sign autographs for all who wanted them.

Of all her music, her hymn was the most significant. It reflected Connie Haines and her deep faith in God.

Born Yvonne Marie Ja Mais, Connie began life in Savannah, Georgia, and at age five her family moved to Jacksonville, Florida. She was raised with a strong Christian background that made her weigh carefully the choices she would have to make later in life. Each day she prays, "Father God, I place my hand in yours today. Here is my life. Show me the way. Speak and sing through me."

At an early age she won a radio talent contest and says, "at the age of nine I was already dancing and singing for Rotary and Kiwanas clubs, the American Legion and businesses."

Her father had died when she was very young so she helped to support both her mother and grandmother. Her faith was so strong that even rheumatic fever and a rheumatic heart could not stop her.

It was in the hospital for the rheumatic fever that doctors gave a much less than hopeful prognosis. Connie prayed and at a critical moment had an out of the body experience. She saw Jesus and gave her life over to him. Her recovery was the first of many miracles she would experience.

Once she recovered she was given a thirteen week contract to sing with a twenty-piece band on NBC, at the tender age of ten. This was during the Great Depression and the money came in handy. Connie went on to many stage and radio appearances.

In her mid-teens she was recruited by Harry James as his lead female vocalist. Shortly after, James also hired Frank Sinatra. It was James who had her change her name. Later when the band leader had financial problems he had to let her go, Tommy Dorsey quickly signed her on as he did Frank Sinatra. Because Connie was only 17 Dorsey had to go to court to be appointed her legal guardian.

Connie received great reviews from the media across the nation. The Washington Post wrote, "The sultry voice of Connie Haines induced those moments of calm when it turned swing into something sweet - and that sweet is something called rhythm." Famous Broadway columnist Damon Runyon described her as "perhaps the only singer now before the public who so enunciates the words of a lyric that a listener knows what they are." In the '40s she was named the top female band vocalist while Sinatra was listed as the top male vocalist. Though they were soloists, Connie and Frank sang on many duets with one song he did about her titled "Snootie Little Cutie." This later became the title of a book on her life.

Eventually Connie moved to Hollywood, where she appeared in films and starred on radio. She was a regular on the Abbott and Costello show and a popular guest on many others. She also appeared on many TV shows and had a two-year series with Frankie Laine titled "Mr. and Miss Rhythm." Above all Connie Haines was a major recording star and her many Gold Records included classics like "You Made Me Love You," "Ole Man Mose is Dead," "For Once In My Life," "Que Sera, Sera", "Mississippi Mud," and "Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine." She also gave her time to entertain the troops, which she considered most rewarding.

There were several White House performances for presidents including, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. The latter was to enter into her life in a special way and she also knew him from her Hollywood days.

She discovered the Hollywood Presbyterian Church and was soon president of the Christian Endeavor Group, which had a sizable youth membership. Connie explains, "I knew my commitment to God was behind many of the wonderful things that were now happening in my life. I kept rededicating my talent to singing His praise...I knew God had great plans for my life that lay ahead."

As reported in our last issue, it was while in this church that Connie enlisted Jane Russell, Beryl Davis, Rhonda Fleming and others to form the Hollywood Christian Group. The group met in private homes for Bible study, prayer, and praise songs. This was modeled after the original church in the New Testament. Others who took part were Roy Rogers, Colleen Townsend, and Marilyn Monroe. Out of this came the gospel singing group, "The Four Girls," and their first recorded song, "Do Lord," reached Gold Record status. (If you missed the second issue which covered this singing group and would like a copy, please let us know.)

In 1954 Connie Haines was surprised to be on the Ralph Edwards show, "This Is Your Life." Both her singing career and Christian life were honored. In the latter case she stood out as she stayed firm in not working on Sundays, refusing to appear in gambling clubs as she felt a personal obligation to be an example to young people, and rejecting any contract that would compromise her principles. Many times her Christianity was tested, including health problems and a marriage that went wrong for her. Quitting has never been in her vocabulary.

In the 1970's, after a broken marriage, Connie did not let being alone hinder her dreams. She reports, "I enrolled in a seminary and studied the Bible, both Old and New Testament. The scriptures have guided me and instilled strength throughout my life, but I hungered to study with the scholars.

"I graduated in 1976, after three years of study and began teaching... When I speak in churches and auditoriums, it's to inspire people toward the love of God, not the fear of Him. It's the good news of Jesus Christ. In my humble way I wish to remind others that God is waiting to help everyone. Just 'ask and you shall receive.'  God is love and that love dwells in all of us." She also "hit the gospel trail" again with Jane, Beryl, and Rhonda.

1982 was a critical year for Connie as she faced deadly cancer and was given little hope of surviving. She had major surgeries and chemotherapy for three years. While undergoing chemo she realized she wanted to help others overcome cancer and founded The Connie Haines Cancer Foundation with support groups and counseling centers. "I can honestly say that with my positive attitude and complete faith in God I never lost my hair, I never got sick, and I never missed a show while on the road. I know for sure I literally sang my way back to better health."

In 1988 she was chosen to receive the Courage Award through the American Cancer Society. She was invited to the White House where President Ronald Reagan personally handed her the award. She was also appointed to be a National Spokesperson during the official ceremony.

After the White House event she was back on tour when she found she would have to have neck surgery, and again her ability to continue singing was in doubt. "Singing wasn't just a livelihood, it was my life...It's my way of expressing God...I really had to work overtime with my positive thinking approach to life, and as before, it paid off."

Connie gave concerts throughout the 1990s, averaging one a month. Then there was an added tragedy. In 2002 she barely survived a terrible car accident that crushed her back and vertebrae 2 and 3 on her neck. This caused her to wear a steel halo on her head for six months, in three hospitals. Doctors said this would paralyze her the rest of her life. One more time her faith in God sustained her. She now walks with a cane and still performs.

Her faith has her always preparing for her next show and she is in demand by many groups, especially churches, to sing. As she told us after the show we witnessed, "I've got years to go, my mom is 105."

Editor's Note: Connie's music is still available. There are two Connie Haines CD albums sold on the net through Amazon.Com and eBay, "Singin' n' Swingin'" and "Connie Haines Sings A Tribute To Helen Morgan" . A cassette tape is available through her web page, "I Am What I Am." Through the Grace of God, Connie's music goes on and on.