By Lola Rossi
With over 55 years in the entertainment business, superstar Tony Orlando takes the stage at 8 p.m. this Saturday, January 14, 2017, at Spotlight 29 Casino, 46-200 Harrison Place in Coachella. (760) 775-5566.
Born and raised in Manhattan, New York, Tony Orlando grew up in a musical family. “My grand-father, Leon Stanley, was the head of the Local 802 Latin Musicians Union and played first trumpet in the Desi Arnaz Orchestra,” said Orlando. “He was one of the performers who opened the Coconut Grove. My mother’s sisters were all talented and my Uncle Orlando Estanislau sang with Kate Smith.”
Producer-Promoter, Don Kirshner, was instrumental in launching the careers of many singers and songwriters such as Bobby Darin; Neil Diamond; Connie Francis; Paul Simon and Neil Sedaka. “I signed with Don when I was 15 years old. We were all teenagers hoping to make it in the music business. He got me the deal with Columbia Records.” Orlando had his first hit recording in 1961, “Halfway To Paradise” when he was 16 years old. “Carol King wrote the song with Gerry Goffin, it was also her first hit record.” A song called “Bless You” was also recorded by him as well as several others from 1961 to 1964.
In 1963, the British Invasion ended his early singing career. A few years later, he went to work for Clive Davis at Columbia Records and ran the April-Blackwood Music Division when he was 23 years old. He worked his way up to Vice President. “I signed Barry Manilow and produced his first records. I had The Yardbirds; Blood, Sweat and Tears, a great Canadian group I represented in those days; and James Taylor. It was a great experience for me to sit behind the desk.”
A friend approached him with the song, “Candida” and he recorded it in 1970 as a favor under the name of the group, Dawn. The song quickly became a worldwide hit reaching #1 in five Countries, and in the top ten in many others. This was followed by another #1 hit, “Knock Three Times.” It was finally time for him to leave his prestigious “day job” and pursue his dream as a recording artist, Tony Orlando and Dawn, with Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson.
In 1973, they recorded another #1 hit, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree.” Two weeks after the song was released, Bob Hope called Tony Orlando and personally invited him to sing the song for 70,000 people at the Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas to welcome home 580 POWs from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. “I was honored to be there. When it came to the chorus of the song, everyone sang the song, I was moved. This song has become a wonderful tool to raise money for Veterans.” He has been working on military ventures since then, 43 years.
Three years ago during the 40th Anniversary POW Homecoming Ceremony at the Nixon Library and Museum, Orlando donated his Gold Record of this Anthem Song. It is now proudly displayed at the Smithsonian Institute as part of the Nixon display for bringing our POWs home. He hosts and performs at the Medal of Honor Dinner in Dallas every year.
In Branson, Missouri, he opened a Theatre and owned it for eight years. “During the week of November 11, we now have over 175,000 Veterans who come to Branson for Veteran’s Day. I chair Snowball Express, which is a Veterans organization underwritten by American Airlines. I am also chairman for the Eisenhower Foundation. This song created a tremendous opportunity for me to do something for my Country.” The yellow ribbon has become a symbol of homecoming and hope for many different causes.
In 1993, Orlando produced a Christmas Show that is now the longest running show by any single Recording Artist. He just finished performing the show in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and other parts of the Country. The script is now being considered for a television movie. He also recorded “A Christmas Reunion” CD with Hopkins and Wilson.
He met his wife, Francine Amormino, with her parents and brother, when she was 13 years old during a performance at Disneyland. She was a big fan and followed his career. They had dinner together when she was in her thirties, and have been married since 1991.
Orlando’s first home was in Palm Desert on Fiddleneck Lane, part of the Firestone Estates and later he lived at The Lakes Country Club. “I started a little business while I lived there, Penguins Yogurt, on Highway 111 at the Palms To Pines Shopping Center. All of my show business friends would come in with their families. The last time I was there, I performed with Don Rickles, who is a very dear friend. Coming back to the Desert is a joy for me and also in a way, like coming home.”