Guy Lombardo

Photo of Guy Lombardo
  • Birth Name

    Gaetano Albert Lombardo
  • Born

    June 19, 1902
    London, Ontario, Canada
  • Died

    November 5, 1977 (age 75)
    Houston, Texas

Guy Lombardo was more than just an or­ches­tra leader, he was an in­sti­tu­tion. Every New Year’s Eve at the stroke of mid­night, mil­lions of lis­ten­ers from all across America would tune in, via ra­dio and later tele­vi­sion, to hear Lombardo and His Royal Canadians play their fa­mil­iar theme song, Auld Lang Syne.” Lombardo was the con­sum­mate band­leader. He pre­sented the kind of mu­sic that the gen­eral pub­lic wanted to hear and to which they wanted to dance, what he called the Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.”

The son of an im­mi­grant tai­lor, Lombardo grew up in a mu­si­cal fam­ily. Brother Carmen played flute and sax­o­phone, while brother Lebert (Liebert) played drums and trum­pet. Younger brother, Victor, played clar­inet and sax. Guy him­self learned the vi­o­lin as a child and formed a dance band with his broth­ers in 1916. The group proved pop­u­lar in the area around their London, Ontario, home, and in November 1923 they trav­eled to Cleveland, Ohio, to make an at­tempt on the American mar­ket.

In March of 1924, the Lombardos’ band recorded sev­eral songs for the Gennett la­bel. These record­ings re­veal the group’s early jazz roots. Their sound dif­fered lit­tle from that of other white bands of the era, how­ever, and the record­ings sold poorly. They soon re­al­ized that changes were needed if the or­ches­tra was go­ing to sur­vive. They be­gan to de­velop their own brand of sweet mu­sic, fo­cus­ing on melody over im­pro­vi­sa­tion. Brother Carmen also helped cre­ate a dis­tinct sax­o­phone sound which gave them in­stant lis­tener recog­ni­tion and helped set them apart from all the other bands. Their big break fi­nally came in Chicago in 1927 when Guy paid ra­dio sta­tion WBBM to broad­cast a fif­teen-minute seg­ment of their per­for­mance at the Granada Cafe. By the end of the night the ball­room was packed and the ra­dio sta­tion had re­ceived so many calls that they ex­tended the broad­cast fur­ther into the evening.

Around this time Guy gave up his vi­o­lin for a ba­ton and be­gan to front the band. This proved a pos­i­tive move, as his bright, out­go­ing per­son­al­ity was per­fect for the or­ches­tra’s im­age. He would ban­ter with the au­di­ence as they danced near the band­stand, laugh­ing, jok­ing, and putting every­one in a good mood. Also around this time the band took the name Royal Canadians” as a com­pro­mise when their agent tried to con­vince them to dress as Mounties.

In October of 1929, the Lombardo or­ches­tra be­gan a long book­ing into the Roosevelt Grill in New York City. Radio broad­casts on WABC helped draw a crowd, so much so that on December 31st a com­pe­ti­tion de­vel­oped over the rights to the show. A com­pro­mise was reached. CBS broad­casted the first half, up to the stroke of mid­night, and NBC the other half, af­ter mid­night. It was at that time when Lombardo be­gan his tra­di­tion of play­ing Auld Lang Syne” to a na­tional au­di­ence on New Year’s Eve, one that would last un­til his death, from the Roosevelt Hotel un­til 1966 and then from the Waldorf-Astoria.

The Royal Canadians en­joyed great suc­cess through­out the 1930s and 1940s. Not every­one ap­pre­ci­ated their mu­sic how­ever. They were of­ten the butt of jokes. A Woody Woodpecker car­toon por­trayed one of their records in a square shape. Still, many oth­ers found much to praise about Lombardo, in­clud­ing Louis Armstrong, who called Lombardo his fa­vorite band­leader. Lombardo also con­sis­tently ranked high on or­ches­tra polls and even set the record for at­ten­dance at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.

Vocals in the early years were for the most part pro­vided by Guy’s brother, Carmen, and brother-in-law, Kenny Gardner, who joined the fam­ily when he mar­ried sis­ter Elaine. Other vo­cal­ists over the years in­cluded brother Lebert, sis­ter Rose Marie, Bill Flannigan, Tony Craig, Cliff Grass, Don Rodney, Stuart Foster, Jimmie Brown, Skip Nelson, Hildegarde, Edie Adams, Kenny Martin, and Billy Leach. The or­ches­tra recorded for Columbia up un­til 1935 when they switched to Decca.

In 1953, the Royal Canadians failed to chart a song for the first time since 1929. They con­tin­ued to en­joy steady book­ings and im­mense pop­u­lar­ity how­ever. They were fea­tured in their own tele­vi­sion pro­gram in 1954 and 1955, and Guy even made sev­eral ap­pear­ances on Laugh-In in the late 1960s. During the 1970s, though, the or­ches­tra be­gan to go into de­cline. Carmen died in 1971 and the band’s heart seemed to go with it. Guy ap­peared tired of per­form­ing but never ad­mit­ted it. He con­tin­ued to press on, play­ing to a in­creas­ingly gray-haired au­di­ence. In November of 1977, Guy suf­fered a mas­sive coro­nary and passed away. Victor took over the band briefly but could­n’t main­tain it. When Lebert sev­ered his ties in 1979, the group fi­nally dis­solved. The or­ches­tra was later re­vived in 1989 by Al Pierson, play­ing a mix of nos­tal­gic tunes and mod­ern arrange­ments.

Aside from his show busi­ness ca­reer, Lombardo was also a cham­pion speed­boat racer. He won nu­mer­ous ti­tles dur­ing the 1940s and 1950s and once set a world record.

Music

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  • Always
    Guy Lombardo (Stuart Foster), Decca (1944)
  • Poor Little Rhode Island
    Guy Lombardo (The Lombardo Trio, Stuart Foster), Decca (1944)
  • (All of a Sudden) My Heart Sings
    Guy Lombardo (Stuart Foster), Decca (1944)
  • The Trolley Song
    Guy Lombardo (The Lombardo Trio, Stuart Foster), Decca (1944)
  • It's Love Love Love
    Guy Lombardo (Skip Nelson, Lombardo Trio), Decca (1944)

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Films

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  • Screenshot
    "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You"
    Eugenie Baird, Guy Lombardo
    (1955)
  • Screenshot
    "Get Happy"
    Eugenie Baird, Guy Lombardo
    (1955)
  • Screenshot
    "P.S. I Love You"
    June Hutton, Guy Lombardo
    from The Guy Lombardo Show, (1955)

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Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.