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“Greek-a-Rican” Veteran Music Star, TONY ORLANDO!
By Markos Papadatos
Veteran music star Tony Orlando chatted with NEO magazine about his upcoming shows at Eisenhower Park and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; moreover, he discussed his Greek heritage.
This past August, Orlando performed in East Meadow on Long Island at the Harry Chapin Lakeside Theatre in Eisenhower Park. “I have always done a Veteran’s Day show on November 11 since 1973. I have raised hundreds of millions dollars on behalf of veterans in my 43 years,” he said. “Eisenhower Park is one of many shows that I do for veterans, and 10,000 people show up at Eisenhower Park, which is named after one of the greatest presidents and generals, Dwight Eisenhower.”
Throughout his career, Orlando has performed with the Bob Hope USO shows and for American troops here and overseas. His dedication and commitment to military matters has spanned over four decades and he made it his mission to create veterans awareness in post-war times. He is credited as being the father and catalyst for a community-wide effort that has become the nation’s largest Veterans Day celebration gatherings in America, bringing in 175,000 veterans every year during the week of Veteran’s Day in Branson, Missouri, which is one of the country’s most popular destinations for veterans reunions and patriotic pride in general. He created the “Yellow Ribbon Salute to Veterans,” a show he has performed for more than two decades on behalf of veterans and he is responsible for making Branson the most visited city by military veterans.
Particularly impressive about Orlando is that he has performed for six U.S. presidents and at many state dinners. He serves on the board of the Eisenhower Foundation as well as the American Airline’s Snowball Express, an organization that takes care of the children of the fallen. He has scored four Grammy nominations, won three American Music Awards, as well as three “Entertainer of the Year” awards in Las Vegas, and he has a star on the Walk of Fame since 1990. He has sold 45 million records as part of Tony Orlando and Dawn, and they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
Speaking of veterans, on November 11, 2015, he is hosting “Rock for Vets Benefit / Tony Master of Ceremonies” at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, with country singer Trace Adkins as his special guest. “We will do the show in the arena and I am looking forward to that, since I have been working with Mohegan Sun and that arena since 1998,” he said. “It is a great, wonderful area, because the East Coast is where I am born and raised.”
On November 30, he will be doing 12 “Great American Christmas” shows at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “My Christmas show really pays tribute to the birth of Christ. We do it in a way where Santa Claus comes to my stage and notices that I have a wonderfully decorated stage, but a nativity scene is missing. I look embarrassed and ashamed and tell Santa ‘next year’ and he goes back and hands me the most beautiful nativity and when he hands it to me, he tells me ‘Merry Christmas Tony.’ When Santa does that, the audience gasps in awe, and Santa becomes a solider for the birth of Christ. The show is such a success at the casino, where they added 12 shows this year,” he said.
Orlando also opened up about his Greek heritage. He was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis to Puerto Rican and Greek parents and he was raised in New York City, thus joking about being “Greek-a-Rican.” “My father, Leo, was born in New York but his parents came from Crete. My yiayia was Despina and my papou was Michael and they were both from Crete. My father was one of the most successful furriers in New York City, and an amazing craftsman like most Greeks are. My upbringing was not so much in a Greek household, because my parents divorced when I was very young,” he said.
He added, “I was the Grand Marshall at the Greek Parade on Fifth Avenue, and I thanked John Catsimatidis for making me the Grand Marshall, since I knew that my Greek father is looking down with such pride to see me standing on a float with every Greek in New York City waving to me and saying ‘Tony, yiasou.’ I am a Greek-a-Rican. My upbringing involved many passionate people between my Greek side and Puerto Rican side, and I think it applied a lot to my career a performer. It made me a more passionate performer. I am proud to have them both in my bloodstream.”