There are plenty of successful entertainers whose careers can be traced to a single song.
But the rewards Tony Orlando has received from his 1973 anthem "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" have long since transcended his popularity as an entertainer.
"The incredible journey that song has taken me on is something I'll never take for granted," the pop singer says. "That one song has allowed me to see the world many times over and work for seven [American] presidents."
The biggest dividends Orlando has received from the song can't be measured in dollars and cents. It's given the 64-year-old entertainer a ringside seat to history and allowed him to participate in events that continue to stir his patriotism and fuel his pride in America.
The song was his backstage pass to a 1981 tickertape parade to welcome home American hostages from Iran. He sang "Yellow Ribbon" countless times at ceremonies and special shows celebrating the return of American troops from Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
And shortly before Christmas, almost 36 years after Tony Orlando and Dawn released that massive worldwide hit, the song's broad wings took Orlando on a pair of special American Airlines "freedom flights" that ferried wounded American soldiers and their families to Walt Disney World in Florida.
Giant yellow ribbons painted on the tails of two American Airlines Boeing 757s easily distinguished the so-called Yellow Ribbon Freedom Flights. All told, the series of chartered flights from 23 cities last month ferried 1,400 soldiers and their families plus widows, widowers and children of fallen service personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, Orlando says.
Naturally, Orlando performed "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree" on each flight, but he also led the special passengers in Christmas carol sing-alongs, played games with them and even pitched in and helped the flight attendants serve food and drinks.
Neither Orlando nor the pilots and crewmembers on the flights were paid for their services.
"It was a completely volunteer effort," Orlando tells me during a phone call from his lakefront home near Branson, Mo. "[The airline] didn't go out of their way to publicize it. This [project] came from the heart.
"It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life," he adds, "and it was all because of that one song."
Although it's been more than 30 years since his last big song on the pop music charts, Orlando continues to perform steadily around the world. He's even been exploring new markets that he'd previously missed.
"We just returned from our second tour in southeast Asia, and the way [audiences] responded, you'd have thought the song ['Yellow Ribbon'] was No. 1 yesterday," he says with a chuckle. "We did a show in Singapore that had 9,000 people. We're already looking at going back there later this year."
Orlando, who returns to Atlantic City for the first time in more than two years with a single show Saturday at the Hilton, feels it's his reputation as a performer that keeps him steadily employed.
"When we go out there [on stage], it's always like the last show we'll do in our lives," he says. "The [entertainment] buyers know they can bet on us and their money is safe. We don't come in asking for only one color of M&Ms."
“I was interviewed recently [in another market] and the reporter asked me where was my favorite place to play, and I immediately said Atlantic City,” Orlando says.
Caesars Entertainment cautions fans that "since there isn’t a cover-charge, fans looking to view the concert from the comfort of Backstage’s plush couches are urged to come early, as reservations will not be accepted."
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