Tony Orlando and Dawn

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Tony Orlando and Dawn

Tony Orlando and Dawn, multi-ethnic popsters of the 1970s. Membership:Tony Orlando (real name, Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis), (b. N.Y., April 3, 1944); Telma Hopkins (b. Louisville, Ky, Oct. 28, 1948); and Joyce Vincent (b. Detroit, Dec. 14, 1946).

Tony Orlando preferred singing doo-wop to attending high school. He and his group, the Five Gents, spent their days during the early 1960s singing in the halls of the Brill Building, home to much of the music business at the time. Eventually, the group got discouraged, but Orlando persevered. Finally, Don Kirshner hired him for $50 a week to sing on songwriter demos—the versions of songs sent to famous singers in hopes they would record the tune. One tape, Carole King’s “Halfway to Heaven”, was deemed good enough to be released by Epic Records in 1961, and the song eked its way into the Top 40 at #39. A couple of months later, Orlando took Neil Diamond’s “Bless You” and rode it up to #15. Trimming away some 60 pounds of baby fat, the 16-year-old singer became a minor-league teen idol for part of 1961. Then his star faded.

Orlando was able to parlay his brief stardom and experience with Kirshner into a publishing career, first with Screen Gems, which had bought Kirshner’s company, then as head of April Blackwood music, one of the publishing arms of Columbia Records. He continued to occasionally record, scoring a #28 hit fronting the studio group Wind on “Make Believe” in 1969. In 1970, he was approached by a producer from the tiny Bell label to add a male vocal to a track that had already been recorded by a pair of female vocalists named Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent. They had done many sessions, singing backgrounds on hits like Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold,” Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” and The Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There.” Orlando didn’t see any harm. The record wouldn’t even have his name on it; Bell was releasing it as Dawn. Besides which, as he told Newsweek years later, “I couldn’t believe the corniness of their song. I kept wondering who would listen to that crap.”

Apparently, a lot of people listened. The record, “Candida,” rose to #3 on the charts and went gold. Orlando was approached to appear on the followup, “Knock Three Times”; it spent three weeks at #1 and also went gold. Suddenly, Tony Orlando was making hit records again. He signed with the label and went on tour with Vincent and Hopkins as “Dawn, featuring Tony Orlando.” What followed were a couple of years of relatively minor hits, like “I Play and Sing” (#25, 1971), “Summer Sand” (#33, 1971), and “What Are You Doing Sunday” (#39,1971). The cold streak didn’t end until they recorded a song based on a Pete Hamill story that appeared in Reader’s Digest. With its hokey, carnival music, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” topped the adult- contemporary charts in 1973 for two weeks and the pop charts for four, taking both the single and the Tuneweaving album to gold. They followed this with another gold single, “Hey Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose,” which topped the adult-contemporary charts for three weeks, hitting #3 pop, and going gold. Yet another song with an impossibly long title, “Who’s in the Strawberry Patch with Sally,” finished off the year at #27.

During the summer of 1974, CBS hired Tony Orlando and Dawn as a summer replacement for its highly rated Sonny and Cher Show. Despite the almost painful hokey-ness of the show, it got huge ratings and ran for two more years. During that time the group continued to record, landing a #7 hit with “Stepping Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” as the show took off in the summer of 1974. The group started off 1975 with the #11 “Look in My Eyes Pretty Woman,” topping the pop and adult-contemporary charts once more that spring with “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You),” its first (and only major) hit for Elektra. Dawn followed this with the #14

“Mornin’ Beautiful” and the #34 “You’re All I Need to Get By” that summer. In 1976, after a #22 hit, “Cupid,” but the group started slipping in popularity. Orlando, troubled by the deaths of his sister, grandfather, and friend Freddie Prinze, as well as his own drug dependencies, walked off stage in the middle of a concert in Mass, in July 1977, temporarily retiring from show business. Dawn forged on without him, but, without hits, it finally broke up: Vincent retired to raise a family; Hopkins became an in-demand comedic actress, with regular roles in such sitcoms as Gimme a Break, Bosom Buddies, Family Matters, and Cosby.

After about four months of “retirement,” Orlando returned to the stage as a solo act in Las Vegas. He recorded, but nothing sold well. He became a staple on the lounge circuit. In 1980, he filled in while the star of Barnum on Broadway took a vacation. He briefly reunited with Dawn in 1988, also on the lounge circuit. When Branson, Mo., became a hotbed for has- been performers in the mid-1980s, Orlando opened the Tie a Yellow Ribbon Theater. When that hit financial difficulty, he went into business with Wayne Newton, calling the theater TOWN (for their initials). At the turn of the millennium, Newton and Orlando were embroiled in lawsuits over the theater.

Discography

Candida (1970); Dawn Featuring Tony Orlando (1971); Tuneweaving (1973); Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies featuring Tony Orlando (1973); Prime Time (1974); He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) (1975); Skybird (1975); To Be with You (1976). TONY ORLANDO: Í Got Rhythm (1979).

—Hank Bordowitz

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Tony Orlando and Dawn

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