Ron Dante may not be a household name, but his voice featured on a couple of the biggest pop hits of the late '60s (the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" and the Cuff Links' "Tracy"), he worked as musical director for Barry Manilow in the '70s, and he sang on some of the most ubiquitous commercials of the era, including the iconic "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" for Coke.
It all started in Staten Island when young Carmine Granito broke his arm and the doctor gave him a choice of playing a sport or an instrument to help the healing process. The Elvis-loving preteen chose guitar and soon was playing and singing in a neighborhood doo wop band called the Persuaders. At the age of 15, the youngster, now known professionally as Ron Dante, headed to Manhattan to break into the music business. After a few false starts, he ended up working as a demo singer for Don Kirshner's Aldon Music. He released "Little Lollipop," his first single under the name Ronnie Dante, in 1964 on the Almot label, but it didn't go anywhere. Neither did his next, the novelty song "Don't Stand Up in a Canoe." In a twist that foreshadowed his future career path, Dante did have a hit in 1964 as the anonymous singer of the "Leader of the Pack" parody "Leader of the Laundromat" by the invented group the Detergents. He spent the next few years writing songs for Bobby Darin's company and releasing singles that didn't worry the charts much.
In 1968, his life changed when he auditioned for a new project Don Kirshner and producer Jeff Barry were working on and got the gig as lead singer. The band was the Archies and the first record to come out was "Bang-Shang-A-Lang." It was a hit, but the next song they released defined an era. "Sugar, Sugar" launched the bubblegum sound and reached number one on the singles chart. The Archies project continued for a few more years, with the hits drying up and Dante learning the ins and outs of record production, eventually helming their final album, 1971's This Is Love. During that time, he was free to work with other producers and he teamed with Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss on the smash 1969 song "Tracy," credited to the Cuff Links.
Dante released his first solo album, Ron Dante Brings You Up, in 1970, with Jeff Barry producing and Dante co-writing most of the songs. It didn't take off the way anyone hoped and Dante went back to releasing one-off singles under his own and other names, as well as doing the voice for another cartoon band, the Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He also did plenty of work singing commercial jingles, providing vocals on campaigns by Pepsi, McDonald's, and many others, including Coke's famous "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" spot. At one of these sessions he met Barry Manilow, who was working as Bette Midler's piano player and as a composer of jingles. The two hit it off and began recording demos of Manilow's songs. Their hard work paid off in 1974 when "Mandy" became a huge hit and launched the singer's career. Dante became Manilow's musical director and producer throughout the 1970s. At the same time, Dante released singles under his own name and under pseudonyms (Bo Cooper, Ronnie & the Dirt Riders), even cutting a disco remake of "Sugar, Sugar" in 1975. He also rode the disco wave with Dante's Inferno, a late-'70s group that featured Dante, Toni Lund, and Monica Burruss on shared vocals.
Around this time Dante began to branch out from music, becoming a Broadway producer and winning Tonys for 1978's Ain't Misbehavin' and 1980's Children of a Lesser God. He also became publisher of The Paris Review for six years starting in 1978, thanks to being a neighbor of the magazine's founder, George Plimpton. He did make another solo album, 1981's Street Angel, and produced records for Irene Cara and Barry Manilow after that, but he then took a long break from releasing anything. It wasn't until the late '90s that Dante returned to making albums, with a series of recordings of his favorite songs and some originals. First came 1997's California Nights, then 1999's Favorites, and lastly, 2004's Saturday Night Blast. He revived the Archies name soon after that, brought in two vocalists to play Betty and Veronica (Danielle van Zyl and Kelly-Lynn), and released The Archies Christmas Party album in 2008 on the Fuel 2000 label. By now he owned the rights to the Archies recordings and oversaw the reissue on CD of all the band's original albums. Dante continued playing live shows, and in 2016 he launched a couple of reissue projects, a CD box set of all the Archies albums presented with the original album artwork and Anthology, a double-disc collection of songs taken from across his always interesting career. ~ Tim Sendra