Manhattan-born and Hell’s Kitchen-raised, Tony Orlando started out singing in a New York street Doo-Wop group called The Five Gents, before moving on to singing on demo’s for Brill Building songwriters at $20 a track in the late 50’s.
He enjoyed hits with Carole King’s Halfway To Paradise (covered in the UK by Adam Faith) and the Mann/Weil number Bless You, which reached #1 in Britain in 1961.
But by 1964, the British Invasion had put paid to Orlando’s career aspirations and, having decided he would never sing again, he was working in a $125-a-week job at movie music publishing firm Robbins, Feist & Miller.
Working his way up from (in his words) “assistant to somebody’s assistant’s assistant,” he ended up producing and left after a year for a better job at the music division of CBS, April Blackwood. He eventually became Vice President.
In 1971, Orlando became the prime mover behind the vocal group known as Dawn, who formed initially as a studio group.
With Joyce Vincent and Telma Hopkins (who had started out singing in high school glee clubs and met in a Detroit studio in the late 50’s as members of rival backup groups), Orlando steered Dawn through a string of hits, with their first UK and US Number One, Knock Three Times, released in mid 1971.
Other hits included What Are You Doing Sunday?, and US-only hit singles I Play And Sing, Summer Sand and Vayo Con Dios.
Touring constantly, Dawn were deep in debt and in danger of folding when they recorded a song called Tie A Yellow Ribbon (Round The Ole Oak Tree) in 1973. It became one of the biggest-selling records of the year and established Tony Orlando & Dawn (as they were now billed) worldwide.
In 1974, CBS Television suddenly offered the group a summer replacement spot – a last-minute effort to fill the time slot vacated by the maritally-defunct Sonny and Cher.
They were inexperienced, and it showed at first. They had never read cue-cards before, and they certainly had never done comedy before, and viewers witnessed their growth week by week as their grasp of comic delivery improved.
The show became a Top 20 hit and ran until December 1976. The group broke up in 1977.