Meet Tony Orlando-One Of Jersey’s Own [PHOTOS/VIDEOS]
Tony Orlando ruled the airwaves, and the 1970’s pop charts, with “Dawn.” That you knew. But, did you know that part of his youth was spent in New Jersey?
Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis was born in New York City on April 3, 1944.
Of Greek and Puerto Rican heritage, Orlando spent his earliest years in the Hell’s Kitchen section of “The Big Apple.”
In his teens, the family crossed the river to the Jersey side…first to Union City, and then Hasbrouck Heights.
Tony Orlando’s musical career started early, with a doo-wop group that he formed, “The Five Gents.”
Soon, he was discovered by famous record producer Don Kirshner.
Orlando would debut on the hit charts at the age of 17…in 1961…
with the hits “Half Way To Paradise” (#39/1961) and
“Bless You” (#15/1961).
When a third song, “Happy Times (Are Here To Stay)” stalled at #81, he knew that his career as a “teen idol” would be short…it was over before his 18th birthday.
Over the next few years, Orlando would record and release several songs that would “bubble under” (not crack the 100 mark on hit charts).
He would also write songs for other singers…and he moved into music publishing.
Orlando became the head of April-Blackwood Music, the publishing side of CBS Records, in 1968.
Seeing as he was still recording song demos, in 1969, Orlando fronted a studio group called “Wind,” and had a top-30 hit called “Make Believe.”
The new decade (1970’s) would bring a return to the spotlight for Tony Orlando!
He was coaxed back into the recording studio, when he was asked to record a demo of the song “Candida” with with backup singers Toni Wine (the song’s writer) and Linda November, Sharon Greane and Jay Siegel. Fearing a possible conflict of interest with his music publishing job, Tony Orlando agreed to add his vocals to this studio group’s song IF his name wasn’t associated with it!
“Candida” was released under the simple name of “Dawn,” the middle name of the daughter of Bell records executive Steve Wax.
It was a #3 smash! (1970)
The followup single, “Knock Three Times,” went to #1 in early 1971!
“Knock Three Times” also went to #1 in England, and remains the Dawn’s biggest-selling single!
Now, Orlando wanted to get back in the recording studio for real…and the record label was desperate for a real-life group to publicly promote the music.
Orlando asked former Motown/Stax Records backup singers, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent to become “Dawn.”
This new group of three would hit the tour circuit.
Quickly, Orlando would find out that there were several other touring bands called “Dawn,” so they became “Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando.”
Several lower-charting singles would bridge the gap from 1971 through 1973.
What would become the group’s signature song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Ole Oak Tree” debuted in early 1973, and shot right to #1.
In its first year of existence, the “American Music Awards” would name “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” the most popular song of the year…this honor was echoed by the trade group “The National Association Of Record Merchandisers.”
It was nominated for two Grammy Awards: “Song Of The Year,” and “Best Pop Group Performance.”
A slice of timeless, pure Americana…the song has become an anthem for homecomings, and takes on renewed meaning in times of crisis. For example, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” played on the radio, and yellow ribbons appeared on trees during the Hostage Crisis in 1980, and during Gulf War I in 1991.
You might be surprised to learn that Tony Orlando wasn’t crazy about the song when he first heard it…saying it was well written, but it would be better suited for an artist like Bobby Vinton (“Roses Are Red” and “Blue Velvet).
Three more “old fashioned” sounding songs would follow…
“Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” landed at #3.
And, as “Tony Orlando & Dawn,” on the label:
“Who’s In The Strawberry Patch With Sally” (#27/1973)…
and “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight) was a #7 record in 1974.
Do you remember “Look In My Eyes Pretty Woman.” (#11/1975)
On their new record label (Elektra)…
“He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) returned Tony Orlando & Dawn to #1 in 1975!
“Morning Beautiful” stalled out at #14 in 1975…and doesn’t get much radio airplay anymore…but I think its a really enjoyable “adult” pop record! I hope you agree!
With a successful recording career, Orlando had turned his sights to television…
CBS’ “Tony Orlando & Dawn Show” came on as the summer replacement for “The Sonny & Cher Show.”
The show was upbeat, featuring sketch comedy and witty repartee between Orlando and Hopkins and Vincent. Its weekly guests were the biggest recording, movie and TV stars…and it was a big hit from 1974 through 1976.
Classic TV fans might be interested to know that a DVD compilation of the TV series was released in 2005….but I digress.
Back on the record side…a faithful remake of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid”…
…would be Tony Orlando & Dawn’s last top-40 chart hit (#22/1976).
Sadly, all good things (must) come to an end…and Tony Orlando & Dawn called it quits in 1977.
Tony, Telma and Joyce came together for a reunion tour in 1988. What was supposed to be a 5 week tour…lasted until 1993!
In addition, on occasion they have reunited on TV in benefit performances.
Tony Orlando & Dawn were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2008.
They all remain active in show business…
Telma Hopkins has appeared on several now-classic TV sitcoms, including “Gimme A Break” and “Family Matters.”
Joyce Vincent works as a backup singer.
If you live in the New York sphere of TV influence in New Jersey, you will remember that Tony Orlando hosted the local cutaways for the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon til 2011 (when Jerry was relieved of duties, Tony called it quits).
Orlando opened his own theater, “Yellow Ribbon Music Theater” in Branson, Missouri. He enjoyed singing nightly on his own stage…from 1993 til 1999. Now, he tours around the country. He was a major Las Vegas stage act through the 1980’s.
In his personal life, Tony Orlando had a drug addiction that he overcame in the years following his success with “Dawn.” He has also dealt with obesity and depression.
He is married to his second wife, Frannie. They have a daughter, Jenny Rose. He has a son, Jon Orlando, from his first marriage.
What is Tony Orlando up to now? Click here for his official site!
Tony Orlando said of his years with “Dawn” (in liner notes for Rhino’s 1994 Best Of CD): “We had an impact on America in a lot of ways. We were three kids coming together and taking this wonderful ride…this little group had a nice run.”
And, as we celebrate this “Jersey Homecoming Weekend” on New Jersey 101.5…this “little group” will always have several of “Jersey’s Favorite Hits!”