Forty years after recording his famous ballad, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Ole Oak Tree,” Tony Orlando is still going strong and championing veteran causes.Tony Orlando’s career has had more changes than a Cher concert. Born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis, he was a teen pop singer in the early 1960s; became an executive at CBS’ music-publishing arm, April-Blackwood Music, during the Woodstock era; and reclaimed the spotlight in the ’70s with 14 Top 40 hits and a CBS variety show, The Tony Orlando and Dawn Show.
Tony’s Tips for Success
After 53 years, Tony Orlando knows show biz inside and out.
On fame: “Worry more about the art you’re making than the stardom you’re seeking. If you focus on celebrity-ism, you’re doomed. If you focus on your work, nine times out of 10 you’ll be OK.”
On fans: “Treat the public like they’re
the boss. Because they are your boss.”
On dealmaking: “Show business includes both ‘show’ and ‘business,’ and the business side is as important as anything. Learn what
a good business deal is.”
On the power of simplicity: “Ray Charles once told me, ‘Simplicity is genius,’ which is true. It’s harder to write something simple than to write something complicated. But the simplest songs last the longest.”
On being a famous parent: “Jenny Rose (21) and Jon (42) are my biggest fans, maybe because I never treated them as if they lived
in a celebrity’s home. I treated them as if they lived in a plumber’s home.”
Orlando went solo in 1977 and since then, he’s acted in Hollywood and on Broadway and served as a spokesperson for Nutrisystem and The Franklin Mint. But he’s never stopped singing. At 69, he still performs around the world as well as in Branson, Mo., where, on Nov. 11, at the Welk Resort Theatre, he’ll host his 20th annual Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Salute To Veterans, one of the largest gatherings of military vets in the U.S. We talked to Orlando about his long career and his support for veterans.
AMERICAN WAY: Forty years after “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’Round the Ole Oak Tree” hit No. 1, what does the song mean to you?
TONY ORLANDO: It’s changed my life — and not just because it became my signature song. I first sang that in 1973 for Vietnam POWs who came home. When Desert Storm happened, people put yellow ribbons everywhere — from porches to skyscrapers — and again with Iraq, it became a symbol of homecoming. “Yellow Ribbon” has led me to meet so many unbelievable heroes and raise a lot of money for veteran causes.
AW: What other veteran causes do you help out with?
TO: I’m proud to support amazing organizations like Snowball Express, which assists families of fallen heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meeting these kids who lost a mom or a dad in those wars puts everything into perspective for me.
AW: You first hit the charts when you were 16 with the ballad “Halfway to Paradise.” Were you a natural-born performer?
TO: I was painfully shy when I was younger, but not onstage. It’s weird. People don’t believe it, but I’m still a shy person except in front of a big crowd. If you ask me to sing for three people, I’m freaking out.
AW: What’s the best advice you got early in your career?
TO: When I was 17, I met Groucho Marx at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge, and he said, “Kid, never lose the ability to say, ‘Thank you.’ ” I’ve always followed that advice. Careers are like roller coasters, but if you stay humble and say, “Thank you,” people will remember you as a good person and help you when you hit a dip in the road.
AW: Last year you played a foul-mouthed boss in Adam Sandler’s film That’s My Boy. What’s been the response?
TO: It’s a whole new Tony, and it’s given me a whole new audience. Now young people come up to me in airports and yell, “Whazzup,” which is a line I say. The movie’s naughty, but people tell me it’s the funniest movie they’ve ever seen.
AW: You’re a household name but not a critics’ favorite. Does that bother you?
TO: You’re right. I was never the hippest artist. Some people say, “Once a bubblegum singer, always a bubblegum singer.” But public favorites last longer than critics’ favorites: People still like me after 50 years, so I must be doing something right.
American Airlines is proud to sponsor Snowball Express and the annual Sky Ball at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport this October. Sky Ball provides needed financial support for Snowball Express and many other worthwhile charitable military causes. To learn more about Sky Ball, please visit www.skyballinfo.com