Friday, December 31, 2010

Guy Lombardo and New Year's Eve

There was a time when Canadian-born Guy Lombardo’s name was synonymous with television on New Year’s Eve.  Born Gaetano Alberto Lombardo on June 19, 1902 in London, Ontario, Guy Lombardo was the eldest of seven children.  His father, Gaetano Sr., an Italian immigrant to Canada, was a tailor and an amateur singer.  All of the Lombardo children were encouraged to play musical instruments.  Since Guy was the eldest, he was given violin lessons because it was customary for a bandleader to be a violinist.  In 1917, Guy and two of his brothers, Carmen and Lebert, formed a dance band along with pianist Freddie Kretizer.  The quartet became popular in the London, Ontario area. 

The young Lombardo eventually put together a nine-member orchestra consisting of his brothers and other musicians from his hometown.  In November of 1923, the group travelled to Cleveland, Ohio in an attempt to make a breakthrough in the United States.  In March of 1924, the Lombardo band's first recording session took place in Indiana, under the Garnett label.  The band finally had its big break in 1927 when Guy paid a Chicago radio station to broadcast a segment of their performance at the Granada Cafe.  They were a big hit and the radio station was barraged with phone calls.  Guy traded in his violin for a baton and became an orchestra leader.

Although their agent wanted to dress the Lombardo band in Mountie uniforms, Guy rejected the idea.  As an alternative, the band was named the Royal Canadians and promoted itself as playing the “the Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.”  By 1929, Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians were performing at the Roosevelt Grill at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City.  The Roosevelt Hotel became the home of the band’s live New Year's Eve broadcasts on CBS until 1959.  They then moved to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where they remained until 1976.
Guy Lombardo will always be remembered as Mr. New Year's Eve.  His broadcasts from New York were a major part of celebrations across North America.  Every year, at the stroke of midnight, millions would tune in on their radios, and later their television sets, to hear Lombardo and His Royal Canadians play their signature song, “Auld Lang Syne.”
Guy Lombardo died of a heart attack on November 5, 1977 in Houston, Texas.  He was 75 years old.  Even after his death, the New Year's Eve specials continued on CBS for two years.  His brother Victor Lombardo was brought in for the 1977 New Year's broadcast and became the band's leader.  Unfortunately, Victor lacked stage presence and his leadership created tensions.  Finally, in March of 1978, trumpet player Lebert Lombardo called upon his 31-year-old son Bill to take command of the band.

In 1979, Bill Lombardo opened the band's New Year's Eve telecast with a disco arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne."  Older and more traditional fans were outraged.  Some younger viewers thought it was extremely funny.  CBS was not amused, however, and promptly declined to renew the band's broadcasting contract.  The Royal Canadians also lost their plum spot at the Waldorf-Astoria.  Bill resigned and Lebert retired from the band.  Lebert Lombardo died on June 16, 1993.  (By the way, here is some interesting trivia about Lebert.  His playing style on the trumpet was hampered by a childhood hockey accident.  He lost a front tooth after being hit by an errant puck.)

When Lebert Lombardo severed his ties with the Royal Canadians in 1979, the band was dissolved.  It was revived a decade later in 1989 by musician and bandleader Al Pierson.  It is now billed as Guy Lombardo's Royal Canadians with Al Pierson.

Thirty-three years after his death, the music of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians lives on!  Their recording of "Auld Lang Syne" remains the first song of the New Year at Times Square in New York.  This is the legacy of the man from London, Ontario.

To watch a video of Guy Lombardo and New Year’s Eve 1957, click on the link below.

To watch  a tribute to Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians, click on the link below.


1 comment:

  1. I would kill to have a recording of Bill Lombardo's disco arrangement of Auld Lang Syne. Does anyone have a clue? Thanks a million!!