Al Martino – October
Born on 7th October 1927, Jasper Cini was the son of immigrants from Abruzzo, Italy who had settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jasper worked beside his brothers as a bricklayer at his father’s masonry business but always aspired to become a singer. Al Jolson and Perry Como had inspired him and he often emulated them. He became particularly fascinated by the successes found by a family friend, Alfredo Cocozza who had changed his name to Mario Lanza. Lanza, an international opera singer made Cini realise his dreams were indeed conceivable.
Cini served in the United States Navy during WWII. Having been injured in the Iwo Jima invasion, he began to take his singing seriously and in 1948 relocated to New York City. He began singing in local nightclubs and in 1952 won first place on the Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show. He had sung a rendition of Perry Como’s “If” and signed a recording contract with the Philadelphia based record label BBS. Thus he embarked on a singing career which Mario Lanza encouraged he pursue whilst suggesting Cini change his stage name to Al Martino.
As his debut single, Martino recorded “Here in My Heart”, however, Lanza, who was with RCA was about to record the same ballad. When Martino pleaded with his friend to forget cutting his own version, (both men knew Lanza’s would eclipse Martino’s ballad) Lanza relented. “Here in My Heart” became a smash hit for Martino and sold over one million copies as it topped the charts in the United States and England. Martino earned a deal with Capitol records and recorded three new singles, “Take My Heart”, “Rachel” and “When You’re Mine” all of which hit the Top 40.
Disturbingly, Martino’s success had drawn the unprecedented attention of the Mafia who forcibly bought out Martino’s contract. They now had full control of him and ordered him to make a payment of $75k as a safeguard for their investment. Martino made a down-payment ensuring his family would be safe and then fled to England. It was in Britain his popularity continued to grow and actually successfully performed at the London Palladium. His recording career found only moderate achievement after that as very little exposure had reached the United States. It was 1958 and through the intervention of a friend who was familiar with the local Philadelphia boss, Martino returned to the States where he resumed his recording career.
However, he faced an uphill battle and his recovery to the stance he had held previously was far from reach. It was no longer 1953 and music had made its own progress. Martino was now hearing a new sound, Rock and Roll was topping the charts and when he recorded for 20th Century Fox his singles did not experience the heights his first three had when they hit the Top 40. The label had no choice other than to let him go. Not to be outdone, Martino financed and released a new album “The Exciting Voice of Al Martino”. He landed a new deal with an old company he’d known in earlier days, Capitol shortly after and followed it with another album this time “The Italian Voice of Al Martino”. It enjoyed moderate success in Europe and when Martino made several high profile television appearances, he bolstered his return to singing with a smash single “I Love You Because”. It hit number 3 on the pop charts, shot to the top of the easy listening charts and the album of the same name went to the Top 10.
It was 1966 and finally, Martino recorded “Spanish Eyes”. That song would become his signature tune after it found remarkable success all over Europe. The album of the same name went gold. After that, he seemed to slow down again as did his momentum until he wound up winning a role in “The Godfather”. He would subsequently play the role in the trilogy and recorded the film’s love theme “Speak Softly Love” which gave his reputation a new facet of a cult icon.
Martino returned to the Top 20 when he sang “To the Door of the Sun” (Alle Porte del Sole) in English. It was the first time since he recorded “Spanish Eyes” that he was tasting new success but in a more diluted way than he had. Martino continued to tour the nightclubs during the 1970’s and came through with one more easy listening hit in 1978 with “The Next Hundred Years”. Thereafter, whilst his returns diminished, Capitol and Martino once again parted company.
It wasn’t until 1993 when Martino recorded a new studio album “Spanish Ballerina” which reached number 93 in the German single charts. Success had run hot and cold for Martino over the years. He married in 1969 and he and his wife Judith had two daughters Alison Martino, Alana Cini and a son, Alfred Cini. He also enjoyed the company of several grandchildren until Al Martino died in his home in Springfield, Pennsylvania on October 13, 2009, after suffering a fatal heart attack. He was 82. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in California.
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