Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Great Al Martino

This morning I awoke to the very sad news that singer Al Martino had passed away at the age of 82. Though I am grateful that he enjoyed a long and happy life and career, I am personally saddened because, of all the legendary Italian American crooners that I've long admired, Al Martino was the only one whom I'd actually had the pleasure to see several times in concert and meet in person.

Al Martino had been very successful starting from the 1950s, and particularly through the 60s and early 70s, with a string of song hits including Here In My Heart, Spanish Eyes and Volare. However, as many of my generation probably were, I was initially most aware of Al Martino from his film performance in The Godfather, where he played Johnny Fontane, a singer with movie aspirations clearly modeled on Frank Sinatra at the time Sinatra was fighting for the role in From Here To Eternity. Because the movie (and the original novel) depicted Fontane as having influential friends within the mafia, Frank Sinatra was none too happy with either the character or with Al Martino for playing the role. I gather that Frank held a grudge against Al ever since that time.

But in the years after The Godfather, I became a big fan of Al Martino, just as I loved all of those legendary Italian American singers like Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Bobby Darin. In fact, when my fellow highschoolers were all grooving to such 1970s newcomers as Elton John and Billy Joel, one of my favourite songs from the pop charts of that era was Al Martino's To The Door Of The Sun. Yeah, I was a weird kid, always with tastes that were more in keeping with my parents' generation. I remember the way Al Martino looked at that time, with the huge sideburns and mane of black hair, very similar to that of his contemporary and longtime friend, Engelbert Humperdinck. It was this look which I decided to capture in the above caricature.

About seven or eight years ago, Al Martino had been making regular stops here in Mississauga every couple of years on his concert tours, playing at Stage West in a dinner show format. My Mom and I were both big fans, so it was always nice to get together with her to go see Al in concert. I believe we saw him on four occasions, and it was on the third where I worked up the caricature and framed up the original to present to him. What was wonderful about Al was that he would always greet his fans out in the Stage West lobby after his show, and he was quite thrilled when I presented him with my framed art. He happily obliged to sign a print for me to add to my growing collection of showbiz memorabilia. Shortly thereafter, I was really excited to receive the following message on my website guestbook from Al's wife Judi:

Dear Pete,

What a wonderful surprise I got when my husband, Al Martino, came home from his recent tour of Canada. There was a fantastic caricature of him that you had done. You definitely captured him and I absolutely LOVE it. I have gotten so much pleasure out of seeing it.
Al has a studio here at our house and it now is very proudly displayed. We both thank you for your kindness. And what a talent. You have made our world a much happier place. God Bless You.

On the next visit, Judi accompanied him on tour, so I went up to say hi when I saw her in the lobby before the show chatting with the concert promoter. She was so sweet and insisted that I come back to see Al again after the show. When I saw them in the lobby later, Al happily greeted me and again expressed how grateful he was to me for doing his caricature. They were both such lovely people that I asked if I could take a photo of them together, which you can see pictured above. Al Martino was such a wonderful entertainer with that rich operatic baritone, and he was also a real gentleman. I will personally miss him so much, but am grateful for having had a chance to meet him several times. My sincere condolences go out to Al's wife Judi and their family.

Here are a couple clips to enjoy of Al Martino in performance. The first, singing his big hit, Spanish Eyes, and the second singing a song he recorded in the later years of his life, the poignant tale of an Italian immigrant first arriving in America, Come Share The Wine. As you can hear in that second clip, Al Martino's voice was still so rich and strong even into his later years.


Guido Salimbeni said...

Hi Pete. another wonderfull piece of art. I can stop looking at your blog. I'm sad too per la dipartita di un cosi' grande artista e uomo Al Martino .

Ricardo Cantoral said...

Oh crap this is Johnny Fontane ? Awesome. I am sure Mr. Martino didn't worry about acting like a man. ;)

Mark Heng said...

Pete, your blog rocks. I love your style. I was just wondering what sort of pens/brushes you use. Is the crosshatching on the suit done with a pen?

Floyd Norman said...

We're gonna miss Al Martino.

Robin said...

That is so incredible that you got to meet him and he remembered you and just...

wow, incredible :)

I got to meet Colin Firth and nearly fainted (that's okay, Pete, I don't expect you to know who he is), but I know he wouldn't remember me.

kevin fitz said...

What a fitting tribute. Very eloquently written.