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Remembering Al Martino

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Philadelphia has lost one of its own, a gifted singer and icon. Legendary crooner Al Martino died Tuesday at his childhood home in Springfield, Pa., The Associated Press reported. He was 82.

In 2007, I had the pleasure of interviewing Martino backstage, before his appearance at the Resorts Superstar Theater in Atlantic City. The Philadelphia native was full of charisma, as he spoke about his international hit records and reminisced about his lasting career.

“Fans are coming in, they haven't forgotten me, and I love Atlantic City,” Martino said with a smile.

For over four decades, Martino entertained audiences with hits like “Speak Softly Love,” “Here in My Heart,” “Volare” and “Spanish Eyes” which is among the 50 most played songs worldwide.

Born Alfred Cini, on October 7, 1927 in Philadelphia, Martino was only 15, when in 1943, he joined the Navy. He completed basic training in New Orleans and was shipped out to Iwo Jima where he became a signalman. Martino suffered a shrapnel injury and was given orders to return home.

In 1947 Martino decided to pursue a career in show business and moved to New York City. There, he got his first break as a winner on the “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” program on CBS.

Eventually, Martino became one of the most recognizable Italian-American pop singers of his time. During our interview the baritone, told me he remembered when his parents had a home on New Hampshire Avenue in Atlantic City and the days of The 500 Club, “Of course Frank Sinatra appeared there all the time as a matter of fact, Dean (Martin) and Jerry (Lewis), we followed each other in The 500 Club, back in the early 50's now all that has changed you know, there are now a bunch of parking lots there, but I guess that's progress,” He said.

Martino even reminisced about his early days, entertaining at famed Steel Pier, “Back when I first played it, there was like five or six shows a day,” he said, “it started off ten in the morning, they would show a movie and then we would put a show on, it went on like that, all day long.”

Martino was one of a number of South Philly-born singers including, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker and Fabian. He also appeared in films, but it is Martino’s portrayal of singer Johnny Fontane in the 1972 movie, The Godfather, that audiences know him best. (A role he would later reprise in the 1990 movie, The Godfather: Part III.)

"It was a great movie I was pleased to be in, you know the old story, be at the right place at the right time," said Martino, whose musical contributions will live on and continue to be remembered.