Like most of you, my parents and their friends generally went to house parties on New Year’s Eve. Guy Lombardo’s broadcast on ABC was either playing in the background or turned on a few minutes before Midnight to hear his Orchestra’s rendition of Auld Lang Syne as the clock strikes 12:00 AM. The required list of supplies for the celebration in those days, were a couple of noisemakers, a glass of bubbly, and someone to kiss. For almost 50 years music on New Year’s Eve meant Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.
Although I am a musician and try to appreciate most forms of music, his group’s sickeningly sweet sound did me in. The saxes with that heavy vibrato, swooping strings, cascading pianos, along with the tuba often providing the bass line in lieu of a bass fiddle could cause cavities with excessive listening. Also, let’s not forget Guy himself with his 30” baton waving in the air, conducting no one.
Guy Lombardo owned New Year’s Eve. In fact, the live broadcast of his show on December 31st was so popular that he was known as “Mr. New Year’s Eve.” Guy and the band cultivated a trademark sound early on that seemingly only white people loved. It was considered revolutionary at the time: the soft, mellow saxophones, muted trumpets, slow tempos, symphonic style always presented with top-notch musicianship. His concerts were elegant affairs. Imagine grand ballrooms filled with guests dressed to the nines, a fine suit or maybe even a tuxedo, or stylish frock. If you weren’t sitting at your table enjoying a cocktail, you might be swaying across the dance floor to the sweet sounds of the band. And on stage, the band in red tuxes with Guy Lombardo in black, baton in hand and gently swaying and dancing as he conducted.
From humble beginnings in London, Ontario, a move to the U.S. and first recordings in the 1920s, the band’s popularity soared. By 1954 Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians had sold over 100 million records and played at the inaugural balls of every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and again in 1985 for Ronald Reagan.
Although Lombardo achieved great success in the United States and became an American citizen in 1938, he maintained close ties with Canada and came back frequently to visit. Lombardo appeared regularly on CBC Radio over the years. In 1973 he talked to Peter Gzwoski on his program This Country in the Morning. Lombardo was a household name. They talked about the early years of the band when he and his band mates were teenagers living in London.
By the time the band had grown to a 9 piece outfit they figured they were ready for the big time and decided to head south. Their first stop was Cleveland, Ohio. Guy reminisced about the surprise of learning that Cleveland was stuffed to the gills with big bands. They were definitely not the only game in town. But lucky for the Royal Canadians, it seemed that the other bands were reluctant to perform on radio. They thought it was too much bother to come all the way to a radio station for each appearance when instead they could fill a concert hall. Lombardo jumped at the chance and made their name. It was radio that helped catapult The Royal Canadians to fame and their name was made.
Bandleader Guy Lombardo, right, poses in 1943 with his brothers, from left, Victor, Carmen and Lebert.
In the mid-1970s, Guy appeared on the local CBC Radio weekend morning show Fresh Air. Interviewing him were Bill McNeil and Cy Strange. Guy was always quick to give credit, especially to his brother Carmen. Carmen played sax in the band and he was entirely self-taught. He also wrote some of the band’s greatest hits, like their most famous, Boo Hoo. In fact, the band was a family affair, with brothers Lebert and Victor also part of it, and for a time sister Rose Marie.
One thing you might not know about Guy Lombardo is that he was a champion boat racer, specializing in hydroplane boats. Between 1946 and 1949 he was the reigning U.S. national champion of the sport. The name of his beloved race boat? Tempo, of course.
Although I didn’t like the vast majority of their music, here’s one I really do like. Perhaps it is that I agree with the sentiment so much. Enjoy Yourself!
Over their long career, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians had over 500 hit songs. In fact by the early 1970s total sales exceeded 300 million, making it the most popular dance band ever. Their recording of Auld Lang Syne still plays as the first song of the New Year of Times Square in New York.
Happy New Year Everyone! Thanks to all of you for reading & writing my humble blog.