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Al Martino RIP

26 October 2009
Al Martino, who died on October 13, was a great postwar Italian-American crooner who rose to even further fame with his role as the singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather (character supposedly based on Frank Sinatra, but with eerie similarities to Martino's own career), the 1972 blockbuster movie starring Marlon Brando.

His single "Here in My Heart" was number one in the first UK Singles Chart (published by the New Musical Express on November 14, 1952, putting him into the Guinness Book of World Records) and earned Martino a gold disc.

Its success secured Martino a record label deal with Capitol Records, and he released three more singles — "Take My Heart," "Rachel," and "When You're Mine" — through 1953, all of which hit the U.S. Top 40.

However, Martino's contract was taken over by a Mafia connected management team, which ordered Martino to pay $75,000, as a safeguard for their investment. He made a down payment to ensure his family's safety, then fled to the United Kingdom where his popularity allowed him to perform successfully for a time, headlining at the London Palladium.

He continued to record in the UK with moderate success, but his work received no exposure back in the U.S. In 1958, thanks to the intervention of a family friend, Martino was allowed to return home and resume his recording career.

He recorded for 20th Century Fox during the late 1950s, but the label ended up dropping him. A new album, The Exciting Voice of Al Martino (1962) secured a new deal with Capitol, and was followed by a mostly Italian language album, The Italian Voice of Al Martino. He also made several high-profile television appearances to re-establish his visibility.

He scored a major comeback hit with 1963's "I Love You Because." Arranged by Belford Hendricks, Martino's cover version went to number three on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and number one on the corresponding Easy Listening chart The accompanying album of the same name went Top 10 in the Billboard 200, and Martino remained a regular visitor to the charts for over a decade afterwards, with hits including "Painted, Tainted Rose" (1963) plus "Always Together," "I Love You More and More Every Day", "Tears and Roses" and "We Could" (all 1964).

Martino died at his childhood home in Springfield, Pennsylvania, 6 days after his 82nd birthday.
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