Tony Orlando

Pop singer and TV personality
Born: April 3, 1944, in New York City
Grew Up in Union City and Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
New Jersey Hall of Fame, Class of 2023: Performing Arts & Entertainment

Music legend Tony Orlando is one of America’s most beloved performers, and has sported many hats in his stunning six and-a-half decade entertainment career: singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, music publisher, artist & repertoire director and philanthropist. He is, however, best-known for turning a simple yellow ribbon into an iconic symbol of freedom.

Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis in April 1944, Tony spent his early years in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. It was on those streets where he honed his vocal skills after falling in love with doo-wop and its smooth acapella harmonies. Tony’s family moved to Union City (and later Hasbrouck Heights), and he became a deeply proud ‘New Jerseyan.’

While in his teens Tony was hired by music publisher/producer Don Kirshner. For Kirshner he waxed early demos for songwriting teams Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill, and Gerry Goffin & Carol King. That opportunity – and the close, lifelong relationships he formed – gave Tony a priceless view of the pop songwriting process. The distinct style Tony brought to his demos led to a contract as the first pop artist with Epic Records, where two of his 1961 singles became #1 hits on New York radio and ranked high on the Billboard charts. These records, Goffin & King’s “Halfway to Paradise” [#39] and Weill & Mann’s “Bless You” [#15] were among the two songwriting duos’ first songs to enter the charts.

In 1967, Columbia Records president Clive Davis appointed Tony as the General Manager of the label’s music publishing division, April-Blackwood Music. As the General Manager of Columbia’s music divisions, Tony signed and produced Barry Manilow’s first records for Bell. Among others, he also represented songwriters James Taylor and Laura Nyro.

A few years later, Bell Records producers Dave Appell and Hank Medress asked Tony to sing lead on a Toni Wine-Irwin Levin song called “Candida.” Released under the name ‘Dawn,’ the million-selling song hit #1 on Billboard in six international markets. In America, “Candida” peaked at #3 on Billboard’s Hot 100, and #1 on the Cashbox Top 100. This massive success prompted Appell and Medress to follow it up with L. Russell Brown & Irwin Levine’s “Knock Three Times” – brilliant song that eclipsed “Candida” by selling four million singles and shooting directly to the lead position on both Billboard’s Hot 100 and Britain’s U.K. Singles chart in January 1971. With “Knock Three Times,” Motown/Stax Records vocalists Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson joined Tony, the group now billed as ‘Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.’ Dawn’s next smash hit – 1973’s “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree” – was the recording that defined them as an ensemble, turned Tony and the girls into bona fide superstars and established a symbol of homecoming for millions of servicemen, military veterans and prisoners held captive around the world. The song, by L. Russel Brown and Irwin Levine, has become a beloved anthem – a touchstone – for those seeking freedom and acceptance. It was locked into the #1 spot on the U.S. Singles chart for four weeks in 1974, and enjoyed a huge revival as the rallying cry to bring American hostages home from Iran in 1981.

The overwhelming success of “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” led to a weekly network music/variety program, The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show, which ran on CBS from 1973 to 1977. This show was groundbreaking, as it featured the first multi-racial singing group to ever have a primetime television show and Tony as the first (and only) Latin American to host a network variety series. Throughout the series, Tony and the band continued making million-selling hits, including: “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” (Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown, #1 in 1973); “Steppin’ Out (Gonna Boogie Tonight)” (Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown, #7 in 1974) and “He Don’t Love You Like I Love You” (Irwin Levine & L. Russell Brown, #1 in 1975). They also turned out two platinum albums (Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Greatest Hits and Dawn’s New Ragtime Follies).

In the ensuing decades Tony starred as P.T. Barnum in the Tony Award winning play Barnum, and also starred in Smoky Joe’s Café. He has also played roles in the Hollywood films A Star Is Born with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson [1976] and That’s My Boy, alongside his dear friend Adam Sandler [2012]. He is currently in his 54TH year as a headliner in Las Vegas, and hosts a weekly oldies show on WABC radio in New York. During his career, Tony has garnered a wide array of industry awards and honors, including:

  • Tony Orlando has had 28 chart hits throughout his career;
  • Tony Orlando and Dawn rank among Billboard magazine’s ‘Top 100 Artists of All-Time’;
  • Multiple Grammy-award nominations;
  • Tony is the recipient of three ‘American Music Awards’ and two ‘People’s Choice Awards’ for Best Male Entertainer;
  • Won the ‘Casino Entertainer of the Year’ Award and is the recipient of the ‘Best All Around Entertainer in Las Vegas’ [5 times] and Atlantic City [4 times];
  • In 1990 was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame;
  • Received the American Eagle Lifetime Achievement Award for Latin Performers, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor (one of the nation’s most prestigious awards) and the East Coast Music Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement Award;
  • Tony Orlando and Dawn were voted into the Singing Group Hall of Fame
  • Inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (2023).

Renowned as one of the most generous people in the entertainment business, Tony has worked on behalf of America’s veterans and children with muscular dystrophy for more than fifty years, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for them and their families. In recognition of unrivaled philanthropy, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society awarded Tony the ‘Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment.’ For seventeen years he was on the Board of Directors for the Eisenhower Foundation, and currently sits on the board of The Tribute to Valor Foundation, which aligns the core values of Congressional Medal of Honor winners with students across the country.

He considers his greatest success spending time with his family: wife Francine, daughter Jenny Rose and son Jon.

Intro/Acceptance Video