Tony Orlando

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Tony Orlando
Tony Orlando crop.jpg
Orlando in November 2014
Background information
Birth name Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis
Born (1944-04-03) April 3, 1944 (age 73)
Origin New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Pop
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1961–present
Associated acts The Five Gents, Wind
Tony Orlando and Dawn
Website Official site

Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis (born April 3, 1944), better known as Tony Orlando, is an American show business professional, best known as the lead singer of the group Tony Orlando and Dawn in the early 1970s.

Discovered by producer Don Kirshner, Orlando had songs on the charts in 1961 when he was 16, "Halfway to Paradise" and "Bless You". Orlando then became a producer himself, and at an early age was promoted to a vice-president position at CBS Records, where he was in charge of the April-Blackwood Music division. He sang under the name "Dawn" in the 1970s, and when the songs became hits, he went on tour and the group became "Tony Orlando and Dawn". They had several songs which were major hits including "Candida", "Knock Three Times", and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree". The group hosted a variety program, "The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show" on CBS from 1974–76, and then broke up in 1978.

Orlando then continued as a solo singer, performing in Las Vegas and Branson, Missouri.[1] Orlando has 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.

Early years[edit]

Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis to a Greek father and a Puerto Rican mother, he spent his earliest years in Hell's Kitchen. In his teenage years, the family moved to Union City and later, Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.[2]

Tony Orlando's musical career started with The Five Gents, a doo-wop group he formed. His first success came at the age of 17, when he recorded the hits "Bless You" and "Halfway To Paradise" in 1961. He also appeared at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater with DJ Murray the K.[3] 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.[4] 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,[5][6] the song was picked up by the Beatles who included it in their set lists on the Beatles Winter 1963 Helen Shapiro Tour;[7] 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. 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 became general manager at Columbia Records, and his career was focused on the corporate end of the music business, representing music publishers. In the late 1960s, he ran April-Blackwood Music, the publishing arm of CBS music.[citation needed]

Tony Orlando and Dawn[edit]

Main article: Tony Orlando and Dawn

Orlando was tempted back to a recording career when he was asked to record a demo record of "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.[8]

The song became a hit, and 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."[3] 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. 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 Ms. 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".[9] It was later confirmed that the Ford campaign slipped the song to the band when Nancy Reagan entered the hall.[citation needed]

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.

Solo work[edit]

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.[10] He was briefly institutionalized, but returned triumphantly to television with an NBC comeback special. From then, he continued as a solo artist. In the 1980s, he was a dominant force in Las Vegas, headlining various hotels with sold-out audiences.

In 1993 he opened the Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Music Theatre in Branson, Missouri. Branson played home to the live shows of such stars as Andy Williams, Bobby Vinton, Wayne Newton, Mel Tillis, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, and Ray Stevens. In 1997 Orlando began sharing a theatre with singer Wayne Newton. The partnership ended badly in 1999 when Newton was caught taping Orlando's conversations in the theatre. Orlando sued Newton, and Newton sued Orlando, and the lawsuits were eventually dropped. But the lifelong friends severed their relationship and the two have not spoken since.[citation needed] Orlando has since ended his act at the Yellow Ribbon theater and the building is now used as a church.[citation needed]

Acting career[edit]

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, Julie Carmen, Rosanna de Soto, Gregory Sierra, and Peter Graves.

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 skit 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".[11] He appeared in That's My Boy as Steve Spirou, a Happy Madison production starring Adam Sandler. He voiced the role of Christopher the lion in The Kingdom Chums: Original Top Ten, and as Sammy the Starfish on the Nick Jr. series Oswald.[citation needed]

As a spokesperson, Orlando has appeared in NutriSystem commercials with Dan Marino to show how much weight they lost. He hosted an infomercial for a CD box set, Romancing The 70s, which was one of Time-Life's compilation albums.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

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 remain married as of 2014. Orlando has one child by each marriage.[3][12]

On February 27, 2013, his mother Ruth Schroeder of Hollister, Missouri died in Branson, Missouri[13] of a diabetic stroke.[14]

In 2002, he wrote a memoir, Halfway to Paradise.[15] 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 the Vice President of Business Development for MEDL Mobile in Fountain Valley, California.[15] Regarding his views on religion, Tony Orlando had an interview on The 700 Club in which he explained that he became a Christian in 1978, after life struggles.[16]


For Orlando's recordings with Dawn, see Tony Orlando and Dawn § Discography.


  • Bless You (1970)
  • Make Believe (1969) (with 'Wind')
  • Livin' for the Music (1977)
  • Tony Orlando (1978)
  • I Got Rhythm (1979)

Solo hit singles[edit]

  • "Halfway To Paradise" (1961) US #39, CB #17
  • "Bless You" (1961) US #15, CB #17 UK #5[17]
  • "Happy Times (Are Here To Stay)" (1961) US #82, CB #76
  • "Chills" (1962) US #109, CB #111
  • "At the Edge of Tears" (1962) CB #146
  • "Shirley" (1963) US #133, CB #109
  • "I'll Be There" (1963) US #124, CB #123
  • "What Am I Gonna Do" (1963) CB #tag
  • "Tell Me What Can I Do" (1964) CB #147
  • "To Wait For Love" (1964) CB #119
  • "I Was A Boy" (1969) US #109, CB #89 (as Billy Shields)
  • "Make Believe" (1969) US #28, CB #18 (with 'Wind')
  • "I'll Hold Out My Hand" (1969) CB #114 (with 'Wind')
  • "Don't Let Go" (1978) AC #48
  • "Sweets For My Sweet" (1979) US #54, CB #55, AC #20

In popular culture[edit]

On Saturday Night Live, Garrett Morris, the first African-American cast member, once commented, "It's in my contract! I get to play anyone darker than Tony Orlando!"

In the Sports Night episode, "The Head Coach, Dinner and the Morning Mail", character Dan Rydell uses Tony Orlando as an adlibbed item to cover for a blank teleprompter.

"Tony Orlando and Dawn" is mentioned in the song "Bitchin' Camaro" by The Dead Milkmen seemingly for no other reason other than that it rhymes.

During the "Marge on the Lam" episode of the animated series The Simpsons, recurring character Troy McClure, while emceeing a public television marathon, opens with a version of his familiar catchphrase by stating: "Hi, I'm Troy McClure. You might remember me from such telethons as Out with Gout '88 and Let's Save Tony Orlando's House.", the latter inspiring the title of a song by the Hoboken, New Jersey indie rock band Yo La Tengo, which was released on the band's 2000 album And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out.

In an episode of the hit TV series Glee, Burt Hummel (played by Mike O'Malley) reflects on what he wore to his junior prom, stating that he looked "like a young Tony Orlando."

On May 4, 2015, media critic Jon Stewart recalled that Mike Huckabee countered the campaign rally of Dr. Ben Carson by having "raised upon [it] Tony Orlando, some boy scouts, and, for some reason, Tony Orlando again."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jones, Joy (November 30, 1999). "Orlando dawns a new era". Sun Herald. 
  2. ^ Ervolino, Bill (May 12, 2011). "Tony Orlando to perform in Morristown". The Bergen Record. Retrieved May 17, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Selvin, Joel (December 15, 1989). "Tony Orlando looking for respect". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  4. ^ Joel Whitburn (1992). Bubbling under the Hot 100 (1959-1985). Record Research, Inc. p. 138. ISBN 0-89820-082-2. 
  5. ^ "Record Details". 45cat. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 
  6. ^ Tony Orlando's version of Beautiful Dreamer on YouTube
  7. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1996). The Complete Beatles Chronicle. Bounty Books. p. 98. ISBN 978-1-85152-975-9. 
  8. ^ Warner, Jay (1992). American singing groups: a history from 1940 to today. Billboard Books. ISBN 0-634-09978-7. 
  9. ^ "Convention Notes: No love lost between Texans, Betty Ford", Dallas Morning News, August 19, 1976, p. 6A
  10. ^ Roger, John (July 26, 1998). "For Tony Orlando, road to Branson has been a thrill". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 
  11. ^ "Larry the Cable Guy's Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza". TV Guide Online. November 21, 2008. Retrieved January 10, 2009. 
  12. ^ Bossick, Karen (June 20, 1999). "Tony Orlando leads lineup of entertainers". Idaho Statesman. 
  13. ^ "Mother of Tony Orlando Dies". Retrieved 2014-09-01. 
  14. ^ Miller, Dennis; Orlando, Tony (2014-05-05). "The Dennis Miller Show" (Interview). Interview with Dennis Miller. 
  15. ^ a b Massey, Dawne (November 12, 2002). "Tony Orlando sets a course for "Paradise" with his memoir". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 
  16. ^ Tony Orlando's Brush With Death,; accessed June 23, 2014.
  17. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 410. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 

External links[edit]