Tony Orlando will be returning to the WNY area for a show at Seneca Allegany Resort & Casino in Salamanca on Saturday, April 8.
Orlando has been doing this for 56 years! He’s done it all - recording, touring, had his own variety television show, “Tony Orlando & Dawn”, starred in two Tony award winning Broadway shows, “Barnum” and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and even appeared in multiple motion pictures.
The awards have been many, including five number-one singles, 50 million singles sold, 3 platinum albums, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The singer also received the first and second People’s Choice awards in his category as well as the first American Music award and the next three with Tony Orlando & Dawn, and he has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame … whew!
I first interviewed Orlando in December of 2004. I had the pleasure of meeting him over coffee in January 2005, and we became instant friends. He took me under his wing and was instrumental in helping me achieve my dream of interviewing entertainers with his support and advice.
We spoke by phone about him returning to Seneca Allegany and we talked about 2016 and all the accolades that were given to him, which he deserves more than anyone I know … and I told him how proud I was about one of his first appearances of 2017, which you will read about in the following conversation.
Orlando, as an entertainer, is the hardest working person I have ever seen … and Orlando as a person is the kindest, most generous man you will ever know. I always tell him that “he makes my heart smile” … and he truly does.
“I hope I’ve been a good person through these 50 plus years,” Orlando said. “I’ve tried to be. I hope the audiences know I care about them and every single time I face them it is an important moment to me … not just a show. Those moments to me are for them.”
A CONVERSATION WITH TONY ORLANDO
HULICK: I am so looking forward to seeing you again April 8 in Salamanca at Seneca Allegany Casino for your show there.
ORLANDO: Thank you sweetheart. I am looking forward to it too! I like that venue … I have played there before and I have also played at Seneca Niagara Casino, which you know.
HULICK: You have had a Buffalo connection that started over 55 years ago.
ORLANDO: My first trip to Buffalo was on Allegany Airlines from La Guardia. It was 1961 and the disc jockey at the time on WKBW was Danny Nevereth. I was promoting my first record, “Half Way to Paradise” which Danny played here.
HULICK: 2016 was very good to you as far as honors and awards.
ORLANDO: It was one heck of a year. One of the special ones was receiving the Casino Entertainer of the Year by all the casinos in the country.
HULICK: That’s terrific Tony! That must make you feel good.
ORLANDO: Yes, the reason this one was a nice one for me was because I got my first Entertainer of the Year Award in Las Vegas in 1977, and received it in 1982, 2002, 2008 and then last year. If you look at that spread of years between them it is incredible … even I took a step back and thought this has been a pretty consistent career. (laughs)
HULICK: I know you, and you don’t do what you do for the awards, but nevertheless I would like the readers to know how amazing your career has been. You received one of the highest honors last year … the Congressional Medal of Honor - the Bob Hope Award.
ORLANDO: Yes, that was an amazing one.
HULICK: One of the highlights of the past year that I was excited for you was playing at the Armed Forces Ball for the inauguration.
ORLANDO: That was something. I was working for not only the official inauguration, which was my third, but to be able to be the only celebrity performer invited to play for our armed forces and first responders - firefighters, police - all in one night was incredible! I was so honored to be asked and so honored to do it. Looking out and seeing five Chiefs of Staffs, Lieutenants and Generals knowing you were there to provide them entertainment was really something, and to be able to give thanks for what all of these wonderful people do for all of us was a very humbling experience for me. They put their lives on the line for us.
HULICK: You have not only contributed so much to the entertainment world, your work on behalf of veterans is a big part of who you are.
ORLANDO: To me, if you don’t take this blessing and make it work for people who are in need or are less fortunate, just do something that helps human beings, then this blessing should not have been given to you. My whole passion for veterans is post war experience. I feel for that guy or girl who served their country and comes home and doesn’t get their due. I would like to see a day in this country where a soldier can take their family anywhere - amusement parks, restaurants, movie theaters and go into that establishment for free. I’m not talking Veterans Day. I mean a separate day for us to say thank you and let them enjoy a day with their families. I’d like to get that done - a Veterans Appreciation Day.
HULICK: You have done so much through these 50 plus years, not just making records and touring. One of my favorite parts of your career was your variety television show, “Tony Orlando & Dawn.” You had some incredible guests on that show. I would like to throw a name out and you tell me the first thing that comes to your mind. Jackie Gleason.
ORLANDO: He was the scariest person I ever worked with because it was the first bigger-than-life star. There was a tough side to him, but he ended up being a very good friend in the end. He used to call me every week in my dressing room and give me a critique of what I did wrong last week. Silly things like, “make sure your tuxedo lapels are not rolled, but flat, you look thinner.” Another one was, “don’t wear silver zippers, they shine on camera.” (laughs)
HULICK: (laughs) He was looking pretty close!
ORLANDO: (laughs) Yes, pretty close! Frank Sinatra used to tell me things like that too. He told me to wear a red hanky in my tuxedo pocket - it means you’re in the club. If you noticed, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. always wore a red hanky.
HULICK: Do you still do that?
ORLANDO: When I wear my tux I do. In fact, I still have the one Frank gave me and I wear it when I’m on television or award shows.
HULICK: Does it seem like 50 plus years and did you see yourself doing all that you have done?
ORLANDO: It’s gone by so fast. I saw myself on Broadway, I saw myself making records and touring and being on television. I had all those dreams come true, every one of them. I worked hard for it, yes, but I have no complaints. So here it is 50 some years later and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I’m going to be 73 years old, which is still two years younger than Paul McCartney (laughs), and I still love to work on the road, to perform. And as long as people want to come and see me, I’m going to be there.