Wayne Newton - Biography
By J Poet
Wayne Newton, Mr. Las Vegas, started humbly and was a crooner in his younger years, with several hit singles to his name including 1963’s “Danke Schoen”. He moved to Las Vegas in the early 60s for a five-year gig at the Flamingo Hotel that become a lifetime career. He’s been in Vegas ever since, reportedly making a million dollars a month, despite a brief round of bankruptcy in the early 90s. At 66 he’s still going strong, headlining several shows a night in Las Vegas that blend pop, R&B, country and rock.
Wayne Newton was born in 1942 in Norfolk, VA. His father was half Powhatan, his mother half Cherokee. When he was four, he was playing steel guitar and at six he started a duo with his brother Jerry, and performed on local radio station WDBJ, where the brothers landed a 15-minute morning show. He also developed asthma and the family moved to Phoenix, AZ. Wayne and Jerry soon became regulars as The Rhythm Rascals on The Lew King Show on KPHO, a country music variety show that was eventually syndicated nationwide. At 16, he dropped out of high school and moved to Vegas with Jerry to make it. They were hired by The Fremont hotel in 1959 to play rockabilly as The Newton Brothers for $280 a week. Their two-week contract was extended for a year, then for five. They made enough money to buy a house and moved their parents out to Vegas.
The Newton Brothers hired a rhythm section, and when the deal with The Fremont ran out, hit the road opening for acts like Sophie Tucker and Jayne Mansfield. Jackie Gleason liked them, booked them on his TV show and got them a gig at the Copa Lounge where Bobby Darin caught their act. Darin brought them to his label and produced “Heart (I Hear You Beating)”. The first take became a Top 20 hit for The Newton Brothers. The Real Thing 1954-1963 (2004 Bear Family, Germany) collects all the known sessions of The Newton Brothers
Darin suggested changing the name of the act to Wayne Newton. He helped produce Newton’s debut album and suggested trying a German song he’d been pitched called “Danke Schoen”. The single was a hit and sold two million copies; Danke Schoen (1963 Capitol) the album was a collection of traditional pop fare, and sold well. Newton continued appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show and split his live gigs between New York clubs and Vegas showrooms. Wayne Newton in Person! (1964 Capitol) captured Newton’s live show with a big band and plenty of between song patter. Red Roses for a Blue Lady (1964 Capitol) became his first, and only, #1 album and the title track became another major hit. Later that year, Jack Benny hired Newton as his opening act, a gig that lasted three years.
Back in Vegas, Newton came to the attention of Howard Hughes, who helped him land better bookings and a bigger salary. By the end of the ‘60s he was pulling down about a million dollars per month. He also continued recording albums like Summer Wind (1965 Capitol), Now! (1966 Capitol), Old Rugged Cross (1966 Capitol), It's Only the Good Times (1964 Capitol), One More Time (1968 MGM), Walking on New Grass (1968 MGM), his first country album, Can't You Hear the Song? (1972 Chelsea), Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast (1972 Chelsea), Tomorrow (1976 Chelsea) and Change of Heart (1978 20th Century). In 1980 and 81 he owned part of the Aladdin Casino, but sold his interested when he was reportedly linked to organized crime. He sued NBC Television for these allegations and won.
In 1994, Newton marked his 25,000th solo show in Las Vegas and in 1999 signed a 10-year deal with the Stardust, performing six shows a week, 40 weeks a year. His albums for the 90s include Merry Christmas from Wayne Newton (1990 Curb) which showcases two of his own tunes “Blue Snow at Christmas’ and “It’s the Season”, God Is Alive (1991 Capitol), Moods & Moments (1991 Curb), Greatest Hits (1993 Curb) a collection of early recordings, Christmas Songs (1995 PSM) and Branson City Limits (1998 Unison) his greatest hits performed live. In 2008 he inked a deal with the MGM Grand Hollywood Theatre for an undisclosed salary and duration.
Newton has also maintained a low-key acting career and has appeared in film and on TV, often as himself. His credits include The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation, Ocean's Eleven with George Clooney, Full House, Roseanne, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Hangover.