Tony Orlando

Last updated

Tony Orlando
Tony Orlando crop.jpg
Orlando in September 2014
Background information
Birth nameMichael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis
Born (1944-04-03) April 3, 1944 (age 77)
Origin New York City, New York
Genres Pop
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter, producer, music executive, actor
Years active1959–present
Associated acts
Website Official site

Michael Anthony "Tony" Orlando Cassavitis (born April 3, 1944) is an American singer, songwriter, producer, music executive, and actor. He is best known for his work as part of Tony Orlando and Dawn as well as their 1970s recordings and television show. His career in the music industry has spanned over 60 years.


Orlando formed the doo-wop group The Five Gents in 1959 at the age of 15, with whom he recorded demos that got the attention of music publisher and producer Don Kirshner. At the age of 17, in 1961, Orlando released the song "Ding Dong" on the MILO record label. Kirshner hired him to write songs at 1650 Broadway, Manhattan as part New York's thriving Brill Building songwriting community, along with other songwriters Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Toni Wine, Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, and Tom and Jerry, who did not make it in the office until they later changed their name to Simon and Garfunkel. [1] Orlando was also hired to sing on songwriter demos, and singles released with Orlando as a solo artist began to enter the charts in the US and the UK beginning in 1961 with "Halfway to Paradise" and "Bless You" when he was 16. [2] Orlando continued as a solo artist and also became a producer himself, as well as a successful music executive in the late 1960s. He was hired by Clive Davis as the general manager of Columbia Records' publishing imprint, April-Blackwood Music in 1967, and by the late 1960s had been promoted to vice-president of Columbia/CBS Music.

In 1969, Orlando signed Barry Manilow to his first recording contract with Bell Records, co-writing with him and producing Manilow's earliest tracks. He also worked with other artists, such as The Yardbirds, James Taylor, Grateful Dead, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Laura Nyro. [1] [3] He recorded "Candida" as lead vocalist under the pseudonym "Dawn" in 1970, and when the song became an international number-one song, he began to use his name in the group becoming "Dawn featuring Tony Orlando" and then "Tony Orlando and Dawn". The group had 19 other top 40 tracks, including "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree", the top-selling hit of 1973 and one of the biggest selling singles of all time. The group also had a hit variety program, The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show on CBS from 1974 to 1976. [4] They then broke up in 1978, after which he has performed as Tony Orlando.

In 1993 he opened the Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Music Theatre in Branson, Missouri. He ended his act there in 2013. He has since continued to perform many live shows as a headliner, mostly in Las Vegas, Nevada. [5]

Early life and career

Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis was born on April 3, 1944, the son of a Greek father and a Puerto Rican mother. He spent his earliest years in Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan, New York. In his teenage years, the family moved to Union City, New Jersey, and later Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. [6]

Orlando's musical career started with The Five Gents, a doo-wop group he formed in 1959 at age 15, with whom he recorded demo tapes. He got the attention of music publisher and producer Don Kirshner, who hired him to write songs in an office across from New York's Brill Building, along with Carole King, Neil Sedaka, Toni Wine, Barry Mann, Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, and Tom and Jerry, who didn't make it in the office until they changed their name to Simon and Garfunkel. [1] Kirshner also hired Orlando to record songwriter demos as a solo artist, and his first success came at the age of 16 when he charted in the US and UK with the hits "Bless You" and "Halfway To Paradise." [7] He also appeared at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater with DJ Murray the K. [8] Orlando also had four records that "Bubbled Under" the Hot 100: "Chills" in 1962, "Shirley" and "I'll Be There" in 1963, and "I Was A Boy (When You Needed A Man)" as by Billy Shields in April 1969. [9] Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller wrote a doo-wop version of Stephen Foster's song "Beautiful Dreamer" for Orlando. Released as a single in 1962, [10] the song was picked up by the Beatles who included it in their set lists on the Beatles Winter 1963 Helen Shapiro Tour; [11] a recorded version was released on their 2013 album On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 .

New Colony Six recorded an Orlando composition, "I'm Just Waitin' (Anticipatin' For Her To Show Up)", which charted locally in Chicago and "Bubbled Under" the Hot 100 in July 1967. That year, Clive Davis hired Orlando as general manager of Columbia Records publishing subsidiary April-Blackwood Music. By the late 1960s, Orlando had worked his way up to vice president of a larger publishing company, CBS Music, where he signed, co-wrote with and produced Barry Manilow (under the name "Featherbed") and worked with James Taylor, the Grateful Dead, Laura Nyro and other artists. [12] [13] In the summer of 1969 he recorded with the studio group Wind and had a #28 hit that year with "Make Believe" on producer Bo Gentry's Life Records. Orlando was experiencing success, primarily as a music executive, and Davis pretended not to notice when Orlando accepted a $3,000 advance and sang lead vocals on a song called "Candida" as a favor for two producer friends. If the record failed, Orlando didn't want it to affect his reputation, so he used a pseudonym: Dawn. [14] [15]

Tony Orlando and Dawn

Orlando recorded the record "Candida", with backup singers including Toni Wine (who wrote the song) and Linda November. Concerned about a possible conflict of interest with his April-Blackwood duties, Orlando sang under the condition that his name not be associated with the project, so it was released under the simple name of "Dawn", the middle name of the daughter of Bell records executive Steve Wax. [16]

"Candida" became a worldwide hit in 1970, reaching number one in five countries, and the top ten in many others, including number 3 in the USA. [17] Dawn, with Wine and November again singing backup, recorded another song, "Knock Three Times", which itself became a #1 hit. Orlando then wanted to go on tour, and asked two other session singers, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson to join for the tour. Orlando then discovered that there were six touring groups using that name, so Dawn became "Dawn featuring Tony Orlando", which changed to Tony Orlando and Dawn in 1973.

The new group recorded more hits, including "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" (1973) and "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)" (1975), a cover of the Jerry Butler hit, "He Will Break Your Heart". With a successful recording career, Orlando then set his sights on television. As described in The San Francisco Chronicle , "Tony Orlando and Dawn burst out of television sets during the Ford administration, a sunny antidote to the dark cynicism that followed Watergate. He represented simple, traditional values, a conservative return to pure entertainment. He drew a happy face in the "O" of his autograph. It was not terribly cool, but America loved him." [8] The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show on CBS became a hit, a summer replacement for the Sonny & Cher show, and ran for four seasons from 1974 to 1976. [18] It welcomed the biggest names in show business each week as Orlando's guests, including his boyhood idols, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Lewis.

At the 1976 Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri, Orlando danced to the tune of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" with then First Lady Betty Ford. The media stated that it was to divert attention as Nancy Reagan entered the Kemper Arena convention hall. However, in Orlando's book Halfway to Paradise, he states that Mrs. Reagan was asked what her favorite song was, which happened to be "Tie a Yellow Ribbon", so it was chosen as her entrance song. Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully challenged Gerald Ford, for the presidential nomination that year but came back in 1980 to claim the presidency itself. Ray Barnhart, a Reagan co-manager from Texas, criticized Mrs. Ford for having "danced a jig" with Orlando. Barbara Staff, another Texas co-chairman, called Betty Ford's behavior "a low, cheap shot". [19]

On October 12, 2015, with Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson present, Pacific Pioneer Broadcasters honored Orlando with their Art Gilmore Career Achievement Award at a celebrity luncheon.

Late 1970s struggles and Solo work

Along with the fame, Orlando had personal battles in the 1970s. He was briefly addicted to cocaine, and battled both obesity and depression. In 1977, due to the death of his sister, and the suicide of Orlando's close friend, comedian Freddie Prinze, Orlando had a breakdown, and retired from singing. [20] He was briefly institutionalized, but returned to television with an NBC comeback special. From then, he continued as a solo artist, charting with two singles - the dance hit "Don't Let Go" in 1978 and "Sweets For My Sweet" in 1979. In the 1980s, he was a dominant force in Las Vegas, headlining various hotels with sold-out audiences. Orlando has continued primarily as a solo singer, performing on tour and regularly in Las Vegas and Branson, Missouri. [21] He hosted the New York City portions of the MDA Labor Day Telethon on WWOR-TV since the 1980s but quit in 2011 in response to Jerry Lewis' firing from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He has won the Casino Entertainer of the Year Award, the Best All Around Entertainer - Las Vegas four times, and, prior to that, three times in Atlantic City, the Jukebox Artist of the Year Award from the Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York, The Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and has also been bestowed with The Bob Hope Award for excellence in entertainment from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society in honor of his efforts on behalf of United States veterans. His work on behalf of American veterans led to his being named Honorary Chairman at the 40th Anniversary at the NAM-POW's Homecoming Celebration at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library in 2014.

Orlando serves on the Board of Directors for the Eisenhower Foundation as well as Honorary Chairman of Snowball Express, an organization that serves the children of fallen military heroes. Orlando also hosts the Congressional Medal of Honor dinner every year in Dallas, Texas. He has also served as the Master of Ceremonies at the Secretary of Defense Freedom Awards at the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Orlando has headlined around the world and entertained for five U.S. presidents. He is a recipient of three American Music Awards and two People's Choice Awards for best male entertainer. For outstanding achievements to the entertainment industry, Orlando was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [18]

Acting career

Orlando's first TV appearance was in 1976 on the series Chico and the Man as "Tomas Garcia".

Orlando starred in the 1981 TV movie 300 Miles For Stephanie, playing a police officer who promises to walk over 300 miles to a sanctuary in order to obtain God's help to cure Stephanie, his gravely ill daughter. Others in the cast included Edward James Olmos, Pepe Serna and Julie Carmen.[ citation needed ]

In May 1981, Orlando appeared on Broadway in the title role of Barnum , replacing Jim Dale, who was on a three-week vacation.

During the 1984–85 season of the Cosby Show (its first season), Orlando played Tony Castillo, who runs a community center. He had a cameo appearance as himself in the 2002 film Waking Up In Reno , in which he sang a version of "Knock Three Times".[ citation needed ]

In 2003, Orlando had a recurring role in the children's animated series Oswald , in which he did the voice of "Sammy Starfish".

Orlando appeared in an episode of MADtv doing a sketch involving a court case, where the defense sings to persuade the jury about their side. He sang for the prosecution, thereby persuading the judge to give the defense jail for life. In another television program, Orlando was featured in "Larry the Cable Guy's Star Studded Christmas Extravaganza". [22] He appeared in That's My Boy as Steve Spirou, a Happy Madison production starring Adam Sandler in 2012.

Personal life

Orlando was introduced by Jerry Lee Lewis to his future wife, Elaine, who had previously dated Buddy Holly. Tony and Elaine married in 1965, and had one child, Jon; they divorced in 1984. Five years later, Orlando was engaged to Francine Amormino, whom he married in 1991. The couple remained married as of 2014; they have one child. [8] [23]

On February 27, 2013, his mother, Ruth Schroeder of Hollister, Missouri, died in Branson, Missouri [24] of a diabetic stroke. [25]

In 2002, he wrote a memoir, Halfway to Paradise. [26] Tony and Francine Orlando live in Branson, Missouri, with their daughter, Jenny Rose. Orlando's son Jon Orlando, from his first marriage, was a comedian from 1993 to 2002, and is currently[ when? ] the vice president of business development for MEDL Mobile in Fountain Valley, California. [26]

Orlando was interviewed on The 700 Club explaining that he was raised Catholic and was "brought up with the Lord as my Savior"; but after a self-destructive period following his professional success with Dawn, he became a born-again Christian in 1978. [27]



Solo singles

See also

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  16. Warner, Jay (1992). American singing groups: a history from 1940 to today . Billboard Books. ISBN   0-634-09978-7.
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  19. "Convention Notes: No love lost between Texans, Betty Ford", Dallas Morning News , August 19, 1976, p. 6A
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