Summary

Conflict Period:
World War II 1
Branch:
Navy 1
Birth:
07 Oct 1927 2
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1
Death:
13 Oct 2009 2
Springfield, PA 1
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Personal Details

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Full Name:
Jasper Cini 1
Full Name:
Alfred Cini aka al 2
Also known as:
Al Martino 1
Birth:
07 Oct 1927 2
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1
Male 1
Death:
13 Oct 2009 2
Springfield, PA 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Beverly Hills, CA 2
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World War II 1

Branch:
Navy 1
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Social Security:
Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 2

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Stories

Al Martino, Singer of Pop Ballads, Is Dead at 82

 

Al Martino, the smooth-voiced baritone who had a string of hits in the 1950s and ’60s with sentimental ballads like “Here in My Heart” and “Spanish Eyes” and then found wider fame as Johnny Fontane, the wedding singer in “The Godfather,” died on Tuesday at his home in Springfield, Pa. He was 82.

A daughter, Alison Martino, described the death as sudden but did not give a cause.

Mr. Martino, whose career spanned five decades, fell backstage on Oct. 3 while acting as M.C. of a concert on Staten Island, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the death of the opera star Mario Lanza, a friend and boyhood idol of his. He had canceled a performance for a television broadcast of the Columbus Day parade in New York. But on Monday he was in a studio recording songs for an album.

Along with Perry Como, Dean MartinVic Damone and others, Mr. Martino was part of a generation of Italian-American pop singers who emerged after Frank Sinatra to score major hits in the postwar years.

Mr. Martino’s breakthrough hit, “Here in My Heart,” released in 1952 on the small BBS label, rose to No. 1 in the United States and on Britain’s first singles chart. It also earned him a contract with Capitol Records.

Lanza, who had encouraged Mr. Martino in his career, had planned to record “Here in My Heart” himself, but dropped that plan after Mr. Martino appealed to him, saying his own debut recording would be neglected if Lanza released a version at the same time.

In the mid-1960s, with rock music dominating the charts, Mr. Martino helped reintroduce classic pop romanticism to trans-Atlantic audiences. Between 1963 and 1967 he had nine Top 40 singles, the most enduring of which proved to be “Spanish Eyes.”

The vocal version of a song composed and first recorded by Bert Kaempfert as “Moon Over Naples,” “Spanish Eyes” became something of a standard and was later recorded by Elvis Presley and Wayne Newton.

Mr. Martino returned to the charts in 1975 when he recorded a disco version of the Italian singer Domenico Modugno’s signature song, “Volare.”

By then he had made an even bigger imprint on pop culture as the singer Johnny Fontane in Francis Ford Coppola’s celebrated 1972 movie, “The Godfather.” (He would reprise the role in 1990 in “The Godfather: Part III.”)

The character, loosely based on Frank Sinatra, is a famous crooner and washed-up movie star who appeals to the mob boss Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), his godfather, to intervene to help his career, most memorably in the scene in which a horse’s head is placed in the bed of a movie producer who would not hire Fontane.

He later recorded a version of the “Godfather” theme song, “Speak Softly Love.”

There were low moments in Mr. Martino’s long career. In 1972 he stormed off the stage of the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel in New York with some bitter remarks about the city, then canceled the rest of his engagement there because of a disagreement with the hotel’s staff.

In 1979 he was arrested with his manager, Daniel J. DeJohn Jr., on shoplifting charges in Framingham, Mass. They were accused of stealing less than $100 worth of men’s socks and shirts from a department store. Mr. Martino was sentenced to probation and assessed $300 in court costs.

Born Jasper Cini on Oct. 7, 1927, in Philadelphia, Mr. Martino joined the Navy as a teenager during World War II. He completed basic training in New Orleans, where he developed a love for country music. “I took the heart of country singing with me into Italian romantic pop,” he said.

Shipped out to Iwo Jima, he became a signalman on Mount Suribachi. A shrapnel injury prompted orders to return home.

In 1947 Mr. Martino moved to New York to pursue a show business career and earned his break as a winner on the CBS radio show “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”

Besides his daughter Alison, Mr. Martino, who was married three times, is survived by his wife, Judi Martino; his sisters, Frances and Rita; a brother, Frankie; another daughter, Debbie; a son, Alfred Cini, from his second marriage, to the former Gwendolyn Wenzel; a daughter, Alana Cini, from his first marriage, to the former Jenny Furini, now deceased; two grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Mr. Martino continued to perform and record up until his death. On Monday he returned to the studio to complete a new 10-track album with the producer Joe Vulpis. “We literally just finished the record,” Mr. Vulpis said on Tuesday.

After leaving the studio Monday evening, Mr. Martino and his wife headed back to Philadelphia and had dinner at an Italian restaurant with Jerry Blavat, a Philadelphia radio and television personality.

“He was in tip-top shape,” Mr. Blavat said on Tuesday. “I got the call and I said, ‘That’s impossible, I had dinner with him last night.’ ”

Mr. Vulpis said Mr. Martino’s new album, tentatively titled “Thank You for Being My Wife,” would feature six original songs as well as “Always on My Mind” (a hit for Willie Nelson) and remastered reissues of “Here in My Heart” and “Spanish Eyes.”

The last song Mr. Martino recorded on Monday, Mr. Vulpis said, was Garth Brooks’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes.”

 

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