Gary: “This group for me, will be a little difficult, because I was far from being a fan. That aside, it was just not my kind of music, but this group was huge in the Seventies, so I would be remiss if I did not talk about…
Tony Orlando was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis in April 1944. By 1970, Orlando was a retired cover singer. He’d had two Top 40 hits in 1961 and another in 1969 as the lead singer for the studio group Wind, but he had not had any further success for the rest of the decade. He stopped singing entirely, publishing music for April-Blackwood Music, a division of Columbia Records, instead.
Orlando discovered a song, “Candida,” which he decided to pass on recording. After an insistence by producer Hank Medress that he dub his voice over the male vocals on the original track, the single was released on Bell Records as performed by “Dawn”, so if the record did not succeed, he would not be known as the lead vocalist. The background singers were Sharon Greane, Jay Siegel, and Toni Wine, who co-wrote the song. After the single hit #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Orlando decided to change career tracks. They then recorded the follow-up song “Knock Three Times” with Linda November joining on background vocals.
Bell Records was desperate to have a real-life act to promote Dawn’s records. Tony asked former Motown/Stax backing vocalists Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson to become Dawn for real. The trio went on the road after “Candida” climbed the charts and “Knock Three Times” followed, eventually hitting #1 in early 1971. After a tour of Europe, Telma and Joyce assumed background vocal duties in the studio as well. They were joined in the studio by Joyce’s sister Pamela Vincent who in addition to singing arranged all the background vocals as well. Prior touring commitments with Aretha Franklin prevented Pamela from appearing with Dawn. The first single with their voices in the background was “Runaway/Happy Together” in 1972.
The group (now billed as Dawn featuring Tony Orlando) waited until 1973 for their next #1 single, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree.” In terms of sales, this single was the most successful in the group’s career.
The group’s next single, “Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose” (from their concept albumDawn’s New Ragtime Follies) went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. CBS gave the group a television variety show in the summer of 1974, after The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour ended its run. The show was in the same vein as its predecessor, and became a Top 20 hit. It ran until December 1976.
With a new name (“Tony Orlando and Dawn”) and a new record label (Elektra), the group continued their string of hit singles during the show’s run hitting the Top 10 on the Hot 100 and/or adult contemporary charts including “He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You)” (a reworking of Jerry Butler’s “He Will Break Your Heart”) which went to #1. A remake of the Sam Cooke song “Cupid”, was the group’s last Top 40 single on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. “Sing” reached #7 on the Adult Contemporary Chart in 1977 and was the last Tony Orlando & Dawn single until 1991’s “With Ev’ry Yellow Ribbon (That’s Why We Tie ‘Em)”. The group went their separate ways later in 1977.
They reformed in 1988 for a 5 week tour that wound up lasting into 1993 with Pamela finally becoming a visible Dawn member stepping in whenever Telma was fulfilling her television obligations.
Orlando is still a popular appearance performer on tour regularly with the Lefty Brothers and Toni Wine. Hopkins made a very successful acting career for herself in series like Bosom Buddies, Gimme a Break,Family Matters, and Half and Half. Joyce and Pamela Vincent continue a prolific career as session singers. A DVD compilation from the variety series was released in 2005 along with the group’s catalog of albums on CD. Tony Orlando & Dawn released A Christmas Reunion that same year. Publicity events for those releases marked the first time Telma, Joyce, and Pamela appeared onstage together. Toni Wine also participated in those shows. The group was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2008. Tony Orlando & Dawn occasionally reunites for television and benefit performances.