Tony Orlando is best remembered for recording and performing with Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson—best known as Dawn—in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, the trio is back together for a Christmas tour—which will include a stop at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino this Saturday, Dec. 1. During a recent phone interview, Orlando said that a holiday album the group released back in 2005 inspired the tour.
“We cut an album in Nashville many years ago; it was called A Christmas Reunion,” Orlando said. “I spoke to Telma, and she said, ‘Why don’t we go out and do a little Christmas tour? It’d be fun!’ The reaction has been unbelievable. Christmas was the right thing for us to do, and it was our favorite album that we ever did.”
Orlando explained why he has such fond memories of the album.
“We love the music. Michael Omartian was the producer for that album, and the history of him as a producer and writer—he’s iconic,” Orlando said. “To work with him on that album was a joy and a privilege. The music is Christmas-related, but we went a different route. A lot of the songs were new and different at the time.”
Tony Orlando, now 74, grew up in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan.
“Growing up in New York City, it certainly gives you a glimpse of the world in a composite. In a one block or a 10-block area, you could really be experiencing the planet,” he said. “(There is) every single background and every single point, from poverty and homelessness to the most wealthy in the penthouses. … You have peripheral vision when you cross the street, because if you don’t, you’ll get hit by a taxi. There are all kinds of benefits to growing up in New York that you wouldn’t imagine if you’ve never lived there. New York has given me a basis of respect for humankind and a respect for all cultures. It came out of that city, and thank God it gave me that as a performer, working all around the world for the past 50 years in show business.”
As a young man, Orlando asked a legend in the business for some advice.
“Groucho Marx’s remarks to me were pretty awesome,” Orlando said. “I asked him, ‘Mr. Marx, I’m 15 years old, and I just had my first hit record. I need the great Groucho Marx’s advice. What should I remember, Mr. Marx?’ I was expecting a joke, and he turned to me and said, ‘Never lose the ability to say thank you, Tony.’ I never forgot that.”
During the heyday of variety television in the ’70s, Tony Orlando and Dawn made their mark—but it wasn’t easy.
“I look back on that now with great respect, and I’m proud of the work we did,” he said. “I didn’t realize how good of a show that was. It was a period of our lives when we did 16 hours every day, and then filming and taping. We always taped it live and never stopped tape. What you saw from the beginning to the end was really a live show. I think that was a glorious time for us, for Sonny and Cher, for Carol Burnett, and for the Osmonds. We all had a great run during that time of variety television.”
Orlando lived in the Coachella Valley as a young man, and shared a holiday memory from that time.
“I remember living in Palm Desert, and it was Christmas Eve. I had just come off the road, and I had my son John with me, who at the time was just a little boy, and we had no Christmas tree,” he said. “We couldn’t find anywhere that had any Christmas trees. It was too late. I’m driving down Highway 111, and I look, and right in front of a yogurt place that was closed, there was the top of someone’s Christmas tree that had been chopped off. I looked at my son, and I said, ‘Well, it looks like that Christmas tree needs a family.’ We took it home, and it was only about 2 feet long, but we put it up—and it was probably the most beautiful Christmas tree, because it found a home.”
Tony Orlando and Dawn will perform at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $39 to $79. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.