Night & Day — Few artists can pull off seven shows at a Western New York venue. Tony Orlando is one of those special performers, the singer and television star begins a mini-residence at Seneca Niagara Casino that began yesterday and continues through this weekend.
Anyone who grew up in the 1970s remembers Orlando as a singer and performer and host of a variety show with Telma Hopkins and Joyce Wilson, known collectively as Tony Orlando and Dawn.
The trailblazing variety show came at a time when the nation was divided over the Vietnam War and Watergate.
“When Fred Silverman hired us to do a variety show, the writers said that variety shows were dead. Back in those days there was something called the family hour. That hour was between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., he thought that a variety show had a place for the family to come together. He knew it wouldn’t get the biggest of numbers, but he thought it would get respectable numbers,” Orlando told me Monday from his room at the Seneca Niagara Hotel.
“He tried out three shows that summer vying for one spot, The Hudson Brothers, Bobbie Gentrie and Tony Orlando and Dawn. The one with the highest ratings won. We were the first multi-racial group to host a variety show. There was a lot going on at the time, we had the biggest records of the three but Silverman also realized we attracted African-American audiences. We were like the Jackie Robinson of prime time variety shows.”
The idea of a multi-racial variety show may seem benign by today’s standards, but back in 1973 there was still major concerns over how audiences would receive a show featuring two African American females and a half Puerto Rican, half-Greek male.
“There were some people that were nervous, just a few years earlier Petula Clark had touched Harry Belafonte on prime time television and all hell broke loose. I’ll tell you though, we were on four seasons and never received a single piece of hate mail, not from the south, not from anywhere.”