Thursday, October 15, 2009

To the Door of the Sun

The name of Al Martino, who died yesterday at 82, doesn't mean much to Baby Boomers except for those who saw his performance as singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather, where he sang "Speak Softly Love." But his death robs Italian-Americans of one of their greatest and most beloved icons.
Martino was one of several Italian-American crooners with a romantic style. A Philadelphia native, his career preceded that of several Italian Philly singing idols like Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell, but Martino was a far more traditional singer than they are. Avalon and Rydell tried to be urban Elvises, but Martino was more in the tradition of Dean Martin. Martino, though, probably had a better voice; he had a rich, sonorous tone that made you take notice. He had a talent that even the most die-hard rock and roll fan, the kind of person who was against the corny balladeering that singers like Martino were known for, couldn't deny.
So his records conjured up stereotypical images of quaint little restaurants where spaghetti dominates the menu and the Chianti flows freely. So what? It's pretty hard not to give the man his due when you listen to him sing. Martino's hits included "I Love You Because," "Spanish Eyes," and "Here In My Heart." My most memorable encounter with Martino came when I heard his 1974 hit "To The Door of The Sun," in which he sang the verses in English and all but one of the choruses in Italian. He turned an slight, somewhat overdone ballad into a majestic, monumental experience. Hearing his voice rush over the words like smooth butterscotch made a believer out of me - this man was a true artist. :-)
He's gone to the door of the sun himself now. RIP. :-(

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