This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with Tony Orlando.
Tony Orlando, who will be bringing his “Tony Orlando’s Christmas Show” to the South Point Casino, December 16-18, began hitting the national charts at the age of 16 with “Halfway to Paradise” and “Bless You” as the first vocal artist to sign with Epic Records.
He later routed his musical career to the nonperformance side and became one of the youngest vice-presidents for CBS Records, heading their April-Blackwood music label.
Through no plans of his own, Orlando was coaxed into putting his voice on a demo record for a song titled “Candida,” for his friends Hank Medress and Dave Appell at Bell Records. The record was released under the name of the record promotion director’s daughter, Dawn.
“I think it is really the rule of show business that every big break you get, you back into it without knowing it at the time. A few weeks after recording Candida. I had forgotten all about it. And then Hank Medress calls me and says, ‘Hey man, we’ve got a hit.’ The crazy thing was, the song kept climbing the charts till it hit number one,” said Orlando.
Hoping lightning would strike again, Medress had Orlando record “Knock Three Times.” The song not only became number one, it was the top song of 1971, selling over six million copies worldwide.
Realizing it was probably safe to give up his successful career at CBS Records, Orlando decided to jump full force into what was already a meteoric rise to the top. Along with Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, Tony Orlando and Dawn became an international sensation.
In 1973, he recorded “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree.” The song was number one for the year, became Orlando’s theme song and grew into an American anthem of hope and homecoming, reunion and renewal.
A string of hits continued including “Sweet Gypsy Rose,” “He Don’t Love You,” “Who’s In The Strawberry Patch With Sally,” “Cupid,” “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” and “Mornin’ Beautiful.”
Orlando then set his sights on television which resulted in his highly rated weekly variety series on CBS. Breaking new ground, it was the first multi-ethnic variety show on television. Orlando, of Hispanic and Greek origins, and Hopkins and Wilson, African Americans, were an instant hit. The show, which ran for four seasons from (1974 – 1976), welcomed the biggest names in show business each week as Tony’s guests, including his boyhood idols, Jackie Gleason and Jerry Lewis.
The friendship forged by Orlando and Lewis was a strong one. He has guested on Jerry’s Labor Day Telethon for 25 years, nine of those as the New York host. Orlando and Lewis also teamed for an unforgettable series of shows in the early 1990’s, taking the stage at the Las Vegas Hilton and Riviera hotels. Only two other entertainers share the distinction of performing with Lewis: Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Orlando has been a recipient of three American Music Awards and a People’s Choice Award. For outstanding achievements to the entertainment industry, he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.