Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Pop Singer Al Martino Passes Away at 82

Pop singer Al Martino passed away on Tuesday afternoon at his childhood home in Springfield, Pennsylvania. He was 82.

Martino had seven top twenty hits and six top 20 albums, but he may be best known for playing the part of Johnny Fontaine in the movie The Godfather.

Martino was born October 7, 1927 as Alfred Cini to Italian immigrants. He spent his early life working in the family masonry business but had an ongoing love for music. When his childhood friend, Alfredo Cocozza became an international superstar under the name of Mario Lanza, Cini decided to make a go of the business.

Changing his name to Al Matino, he moved to New York in 1948 where he eventually won first place on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Soon after, he signed to a small independent label, BBS, recording Here in My Heart which went on to become an international hit, going to number one in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Capitol Records took notice and signed Martino who had a few more hits in the early-50's before his career suddenly took a detour. According to legend, his contract was forcibly taken over by a mafia based management team who demanded $75,000 in protection money. Unable to make the payment, Martino and his family fled to England where his career continued to flourish.

By the time he was able to return to the U.S. in 1958, the public had mostly forgotten him and rock and roll was the music of the day. He signed with 20th Century Fox Records where he recorded a couple of albums but sales were slow and the label dropped him. Martino decided to finance his next record himself and The Exciting Voice of Al Martino got him resigned as an artist at Capitol.

Martino worked relentlessly to reestablish his career, playing many tour dates and appearing as often as possible on TV. The hard work payed off in 1963 when I Love You Because made it up to number 3 on the Pop and number 1 on the Adult Contemporary charts. From that point on, he became a standard part of the AC chart, scoring twenty more top ten hits.

In 1966, Martino released his signature song. Spanish Eyes, based on an instrumental hit by Bert Kaempfert, made it to number 15 on the Pop charts and spent a month at the top in Adult Comtemporary.

In the early 70's, Martino's friend Phyllis McGuire brought him to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola who was making a film version of the book The Godfather by Mario Puzo. Specifically, she thought the part of Johnny Fontaine fit Martino perfectly. Fontaine was based on Frank Sinatra and his fight to be cast in From Here to Eternity, but much of the fictional singer's story also was familiar from Martino's 50's connections. He was cast in the film and the exposure allowed him to continue recording through the rest of the decade.

Martino and Capitol parted ways in the early-80's and the singer continued to tour behind his large catalog. He returned to recording in 2000 with the album Style.


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