Vinton is the only child of locally popular bandleader Stan Vinton and Dorothy Studzinski Vinton. He is of Polish and Lithuanian descent. The family surname was originally Vintula, and was changed by Vinton's father. Vinton's parents encouraged their son's interest in music by giving him his daily 25 cent allowance after he had practised the clarinet.
At 16, Vinton formed his first band, which played clubs around the Pittsburgh area. With the money he earned, he helped finance his college education at Duquesne University, where he graduated with a degree in musical composition. While at Duquesne, he became proficient on all of the instruments in the band: piano, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, drums, and oboe. When Vinton became an active musician, it was common for people to become confused with the bands of father and son, as both were named Stanley. Vinton's father suggested his son use his middle name of Robert professionally to clear up the confusion.
Vinton's birthplace of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania is also the birthplace of Perry Como. Joey Powers was born in nearby Washington, Pennsylvania, and at one time played in a band with Vinton. Vinton's hometown named two streets, Bobby Vinton Boulevard and the shorter adjoining Bobby Vinton Drive, in his honor. These streets were built in the late 1970s; prior attempts to name a residential street after him failed. The residents did not care for the singer always using Pittsburgh as his home town on TV interviews. Como always claimed Canonsburg as his hometown, so hundreds of people changed their address when the town renamed a street in the east end after Perry Como. The Canonsburg town fathers had plans to erect a statue in Vinton's honor, but Vinton himself vetoed the idea, noting that the $100,000 planned cost could go to far more important town needs.
After two years' service in the United States Army, where he served as a chaplain's assistant, Vinton was signed to Epic Records in 1960 as a bandleader: "A Young Man With a Big Band". The break for the Epic Records contract had come after Vinton and his band appeared on Guy Lombardo's TV Talent Scouts program. However, two albums and several singles were not successful, and with Epic ready to drop him from its roster, Vinton found his first hit single literally sitting in a reject pile. The song was titled "Roses Are Red (My Love)". Vinton had to do his own promotion for the song; he bought one thousand copies and hired a young woman to deliver a copy of the record and a dozen red roses to every local DJ. It spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The success of the song helped Epic renew Vinton's contract and change his status from bandleader to solo singer.
Arguably, his most famous song is 1963's "Blue Velvet," originally a minor hit for Tony Bennett in 1951, that also went to number one. 23 years later, David Lynch named his movie Blue Velvet after the song. In 1990, "Blue Velvet" reached number 2 in the UK Singles Chart, after being featured in a Nivea commercial. The 1990 reissue also hit number 3 in the Irish Singles Chart and number 7 in Australia.
In 1964, Vinton had two number 1 hits, "There! I've Said It Again" (a number 1 hit in 1945 for Vaughn Monroe) and "Mr. Lonely". Vinton's version of "There! I've Said It Again" is noteworthy for being the last U.S. Billboard number-one single of the pre-Beatles era, deposed from the Hot 100's summit by "I Want to Hold Your Hand". Also noteworthy is the fact that Vinton continued to have big hit records during the British Invasion, scoring 16 top-ten hits, while Connie Francis, Ricky Nelson, the Shirelles, and other major artists of the early 1960s struggled to reach even the Top 30, though many of them would remain popular in concerts or continue to have hits for certain periods of time.
Vinton wrote "Mr. Lonely" during his chaplain's assistant service in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. The song was recorded during the same 1962 session that produced "Roses Are Red" and launched Vinton's singing career. It was released as an album track on the 1962 Roses Are Red (and other songs for the young & sentimental) LP. Despite pressure from Vinton to release it as a single, Epic instead had Buddy Greco release it and it flopped. Two years and millions of records sold later, Bobby prevailed on Epic to include "Mr. Lonely" on his Bobby Vinton's Greatest Hits LP. Soon DJs picked up on the song and airplay resulted in demand for a single release. "Mr. Lonely" shot up the charts in the late fall of 1964 to reach number 1 on the Hot 100 on 12 December 1964. Epic then released the LP Bobby Vinton Mr. Lonely, giving the song a unique claim to fame since it now appeared on three Bobby Vinton albums released within two years. The song has continued to spin gold for its composer in the 45 years since it hit number 1. Harmony Korine named his 2007 film Mister Lonely after the latter and features the song in the film's opening, and it is now also the basis for Akon's hit, "Lonely".
In 1965, Vinton continued his "Lonely" success streak with the self-written "L-O-N-E-L-Y". "Long Lonely Nights" peaked at number 12 and spawned an album, Bobby Vinton Sings for Lonely Nights. Vinton's self-written 1966 hit, "Coming Home Soldier", was a favorite on request shows on the American Forces Network during the Cold War and Vietnam era, often called in by soldiers about to board the Freedom Bird that would take them back to the "Land of the Round Doorknobs". Vinton's lush 1967 remake of "Please Love Me Forever", which reached number 6 and sold over a million copies, began his string of twelve consecutive hits, all remakes, over a little less than five and a half years to reach the Hot 100. His 1968 hit, "I Love How You Love Me", surged to number 9, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record by the RIAA.
In the 1970s the "Polish Prince" continued to hit the Top 40, notably with "Ev'ry Day of My Life", produced by Jimmy "The Wiz" Wizner and CBS recording engineer Jim Reeves, which peaked at number 24 on 29 April 1972, and "Sealed With a Kiss" hitting number 19 on 19–26 August 1972. Despite the success of the two hits, Epic Records decided to drop Vinton from his contract the next year, claiming that his days of selling records were over.
Undeterred, Vinton spent $50,000 of his own money on "My Melody of Love", partially self-written and partially sung in Polish. The suggestion for the song came from Vinton's mother. After Vinton was turned down by six major labels, ABC Records bought Vinton's idea, and the result was a multi-million-selling single of simple lyrics that hit number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, number 2 on the Cashbox Top 100 chart, and number 1 on the AC chart in 1974. A gold album, Melodies of Love, followed as well as more Top 40 pop hits (the traditional "Beer Barrel Polka", also sung partially in Polish, and "Dick And Jane" in 1975), a successful half-hour variety show The Bobby Vinton Show (which aired from 1975 to 1978), which used "My Melody of Love" as its theme song; ABC Records subsequently released an album of songs performed on the show.
In 1978 CBS TV aired Bobby Vinton's Rock N' Rollers a one-hour special that achieved top ratings. Earlier in the decade, Vinton also starred in two John Wayne movies, Big Jake and The Train Robbers.
He owned, and performed at, the Bobby Vinton Blue Velvet Theatre in Branson, Missouri until 2002, when the theater was sold to David King, creator and producer of Spirit of the Dance. Vinton returns to Branson annually for limited engagements at the theater.
Billboard Magazine called Bobby Vinton "the all-time most successful love singer of the 'Rock-Era'". From 1962 through 1972, Vinton had more Billboard number 1 hits than any other male vocalist, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra. In recognition of his recording career, Bobby Vinton has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6916 Hollywood Blvd.
Vinton's alma mater, Duquesne University, awarded him an honorary doctorate in music in 1978.
In 2011, Grammy Award winner Jimmy Sturr and His Orchestra recorded the "Polish Prince" song, a tip of the hat to Vinton, and included it on their Grammy-nominated Not Just Another Polka CD. The song was written by Johnny Prill and was based on the 1978 autobiography The Polish Prince – Bobby Vinton.
Vinton appeared in seven acting roles during his singing career, commencing with the beach party movie Surf Party in 1964. He was also cast as Jeff McCandles in the 1971 John Wayne film, Big Jake and another Wayne film, The Train Robbers (1973), as Ben Young. His last screen appearance was as Bobby Gaines in the 1983 episode "Chance of a Lifetime" on the NBC family drama television series, Boone, starring Barry Corbin, Tom Byrd, and Ronnie Claire Edwards. Years earlier in 1965, he played George Reynolds in the episode "Patty and the Newspaper Game" on ABC's sitcom, The Patty Duke Show.
Vinton and his wife, Dolores "Dolly" Dobbins, have been married since December 17, 1962. They reside in Englewood, Florida, and have five children: Robert (who played Vinton in the 1990 film Goodfellas), Kristin, Christopher, Jennifer (who later legally changed her first name to Hannah after getting married), and Rebecca.