Al Martino (born Jasper Cini, October 7, 1927 – October 13, 2009) was an American singer and actor. He had his greatest success as a singer between the early 1950s and mid-1970s, being described as "one of the great Italian American pop crooners", and also became well known as an actor, particularly for his role as singer Johnny Fontane in The Godfather.
His Italian immigrant parents ran a masonry business, and he worked alongside his brothers as a bricklayer while growing up. However, he was more interested in music, and was inspired by Al Jolson and Perry Como to try his own hand at singing. When his boyhood friend Alfredo Cocozza changed his name to Mario Lanza and became an international opera star, the possibility of a career in music suddenly seemed plausible.
After service with the U.S. Marines in World War II, including being a part of the Iwo Jima invasion where he was wounded, he commenced his singing career. Adopting the stage name Al Martino (after his maternal grandfather's last name), he performed in local nightclubs for a time, and moved to New York City in 1948 with Lanza's encouragement. He went on to win first place on the Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts show, thanks to a rendition of Perry Como's "If." That exposure helped him land a record deal with the Philadelphia-based independent label BBS.
In 1952, Martino recorded a ballad called "Here in My Heart" as his debut single. When he heard that Lanza was set to cut his own version, Martino called him and begged him not to, knowing that Lanza's record would immediately eclipse his own. Lanza relented, and "Here in My Heart" became a breakthrough smash for Martino, selling over a million copies and topping the charts in both the U.S. and U.K., where it was number one in the first UK Singles Chart, published by the New Musical Express in 1952, putting him into the Guinness Book of World Records. The song stayed there for nine weeks. Its success earned Martino a major-label deal with Capitol, and he released three more singles — "Take My Heart," "Rachel," and "When You're Mine" — through 1953, all of which hit the Top 40.
Unfortunately, a few of Martino's new fans wanted in on the action; according to legend, Martino's contract was forcibly taken over by a new, Mafia-connected management team, which then ordered Martino to pay a 75,000 dollar fee upfront, as a safeguard for their investment. Martino made a down payment to ensure his family's safety, then fled to England, where his popularity allowed him to perform successfully for a time; he even headlined the London Palladium. He continued to record in Britain with moderate success, but his work received no exposure back in the U.S. In 1958, thanks to the intervention of a family friend with the local Philadelphia boss, Martino was allowed to return home and resume his recording career.
One of the most successful Martino hits was "Spanish Eyes", achieving several gold and platinum discs for sales. Recorded in 1965, the song reached number 5 on the UK Singles Chart when re-issued in 1973. Even today, this classic by composer Bert Kaempfert (his original title for the song was "Moon Over Naples") is among the 50 most-played songs worldwide. Another hit was "Volare", (also known as "Nel blu, Dipinto di Blu"). In 1976, it reached number one on the Italian and Flemish charts, and was in the Top Ten in Spain, The Netherlands and France, as well as in many other European countries.
In the U.S., Martino had eleven top 40 hits in the Billboard pop singles chart in the 1960s and 1970s, with 1963's "I Love You Because" (#3) and 1964's "I Love You More and More Every Day" (#9) both reaching the Top Ten. He also sang the title song for the film, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), and is credited in the end titles of the film.
Apart from singing, Martino played the role of Johnny Fontane in the 1972 film The Godfather, as well as singing the film's theme, "Speak Softly Love". He played the same role in The Godfather Part III and The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980. He recently returned to acting, playing aging crooner Sal Stevens in the short film Cutout, appearing in film festivals around the world in 2006. He continued to play to audiences in his later years around venues in the USA.
Martino died on October 13, 2009 at his childhood home in Springfield, Pennsylvania, six days after his 82nd birthday. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Martino was survived by his widow Judi, his three children: Alison Martino, Alfred Cini, and Alana Cini, and several grandchildren.
In December 2009, Al Martino was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. (info edited from Wikipedia & AMG)