Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, April 3, 1944, in New York City; married second wife, Frannie Amormino, 1991; children: (first marriage) Jon; (second marriage) Jenny Rose. Addresses: Record company--Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-1900.
In some circumstances, popular songs can take on a significance far beyond their melody or lyrics alone. Such was the case for "Tie a Yellow Ribbon `Round the Old Oak Tree," the second Number One hit for Tony Orlando and Dawn. This simple, upbeat tune was released in the early 1970s when American families were anxiously awaiting news about soldiers missing in the Vietnam War. Later it resurfaced when U.S. citizens were held hostage in Iran. By the time American troops participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1990, the image of yellow ribbons worn in hopes of the return of a loved one had become a national norm--a testament to the power of even the simplest pop music piece.
Tony Orlando, a songwriter, music publisher, and performer, admits that the works he recorded with Telma Louise Hopkins and Joyce Vincent-Wilson as Tony Orlando and Dawn were "corny." He told Newsweek: "I kept wondering who would listen to that crap." But it seemed as if all America listened in the early 1970s, as Orlando and his two comely backup vocalists turned out hits such as "Knock Three Times," "Candida," "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," and "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)." Tony Orlando and Dawn posted nearly 30 million in record sales, released two platinum albums, and won two American Music Awards. Scorned by the critics, this unconventional interracial trio found a permanent place in the annals of pop music-- and in the psyche of Middle America.
Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis in New York City in 1944, Tony Orlando grew up in a straight-laced family that was beset with enormous burdens. His father was a furrier of Greek ancestry, his mother was an immigrant from Puerto Rico. Orlando's only sibling, a sister named Rhonda Marie, was mentally retarded. He spent much of his youth caring for her, so he managed to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol and drugs that were threatening his working- class neighborhood.
While still a teenager, Orlando began performing, cutting demo tapes with composers and searching for rock and roll tunes that he could parlay into hits. At 16 he auditioned for producer Don Kirshner, who helped him to record the singles "Halfway to Paradise" and "Bless You." The latter song reached Number 15 on the pop charts in 1961. Orlando was unable to sustain his performing career in the mid- 1960s, however, so he found work in the publishing sector of the business. By 1967 he was manager of April-Blackwood Music, a subsidiary of Columbia Records.
In 1970 a friend of Orlando's asked him to overdub the lead vocals for a new song by a group named Dawn out of Detroit. Orlando had never met the members of Dawn, and when he heard the song "Candida," he thought it would disappear from the charts without a trace. He did the vocals as a favor to his friend, and "Candida" became a Number Three hit on the Billboard pop charts in 1971. The song's success led Orlando to quit his music publishing job. He teamed with the young women in Dawn, and together they recorded a string of numbers with the same catchy optimism as "Candida."
Tony Orlando and Dawn became one of the best-known pop groups in America during the last years of the Vietnam War. In 1971 the trio had a Number One hit with "Knock Three Times," a cheerful take on love in an apartment building. The group's biggest hit found the charts in 1973--"Tie a Yellow Ribbon," a ballad about a paroled prisoner looking for a sign of affection from his sweetheart. In ordinary times the song might have had little relevance beyond its catchy pop sound, but as Americans agonized over the fate of missing soldiers in Vietnam, the hit's gentle tale of faithful love came to symbolize the homefront devotion to missing comrades. That same spirit of devotion gave the song a second life when Americans were taken hostage in Iran later in the 1970s. "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" was the biggest-selling single of 1973.
Other Tony Orlando and Dawn hits included "Say Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose" in 1973 and "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)" in 1975. The group's middle-of-the-road appeal helped them to land a prime-time television variety show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, that ran from 1974 until 1976. Then, amidst reports that Hopkins and Vincent-Wilson were dissatisfied with their contracts, the show was cancelled and the group disbanded.
For Orlando, 1977 marked the low point in his career and personal life. He was stunned by the deaths of his beloved sister and his best friend, comedian-actor Freddie Prinze, who had hit it big as the star of the sitcom Chico and the Man before taking his own life. Orlando also later admitted to abusing cocaine and to driving himself to the point of exhaustion for the television variety show. Finally he suffered a complete nervous breakdown and retired from show business for an extended period. After a long recuperation, he began to accept engagements again, including an appearance in the Broadway play Barnum in 1981.
In 1988 Orlando teamed with Hopkins and Vincent-Wilson again, and the trio performed their old hits and other similar tunes in a popular nightclub act. They still do occasional shows together. Reflecting on his work with his two singing partners, Orlando told Jet magazine: "There is a unique feeling with Telma and Joyce that is separate from the music. That wonderful sense--that rush that only harmony can give you. There is something about those two voices and being that middle voice in that pocket of harmony."
Tony Orlando and Dawn proved that pop music need not only appeal to the young. Their vaudeville-styled numbers with their shameless Tin Pan Alley lyrics found an audience that broke the barriers of age and race. Few multiracial groups have enjoyed more commercial success, and fewer still have left a lasting cultural legacy with such irrepressibly cheerful music.
by Anne Janette Johnson
Tony Orlando's Career
Pop singer, beginning 1960; manager of April-Blackwood Music (publishing arm of Columbia Records), 1967-71; member (with Telma Louise Hopkins and Joyce Elaine Vincent-Wilson) of Tony Orlando and Dawn, beginning 1971; group played briefly in 1971 as Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando. Hit singles include "Halfway to Paradise," 1961; "Bless You," 1961; "Candida," 1971; "Knock Three Times," 1971; "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree," 1973; and "He Don't Love You (Like I Love You)," 1975. Principal television work includes Tony Orlando and Dawn (variety series), CBS, 1974-76; episodes of Chico and the Man and The Tonight Show; specials The Johnny Cash Christmas Special, 1976, and Bob Hope Presents a Celebration with Stars of Comedy and Music, 1981. Principal stage work includes Barnum, St. James Theatre, New York City, 1981.
Tony Orlando's Awards
Two Grammy Award nominations for vocal performance with a group; two American Music Awards for vocal performance with a group.
- Selective Works
- Candida, Bell, 1970.
- Tony Orlando and Dawn's Greatest Hits, Arista, 1975.
- The Best of Tony Orlando and Dawn, Rhino, 1994.
- Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 6, Gale, 1989.
- Periodicals Entertainment Weekly, August 12, 1994.
- Jet, October 10, 1988.
- Newsweek, January 27, 1975.
- People, May 11, 1981; July 17, 1995.