He was known as Mr. New Year’s Eve. To his critics, the violin-playing band leader, Guy Lombardo, was derided as the “King of Corn,” “Schmaltz King” and “Gooey Lumbago.” Yet, for generations, everyone came to know Lombardo and his Royal Canadians as the sound of every December 31 evening celebrating the New Year. In fact, the band’s annual New Year’s Eve party was a tradition, beginning in 1928 and establishing a record for the longest running annual radio broadcast remotes.
Lombardo was born on June 19, 1902 in London, Ontario to Gaetano and Lena Lombardo who emigrated from Italy. Guy was the oldest of five boys and two girls. Papa Gaetano, a tailor, wanted all of his children to have a music education and, because Guy was the oldest, he was given violin lessons as the violin player was always the leader of the band. All of the Lombardo children – Guy, Carmen, Lebert, Victor and Rose Marie – established musical careers.
The Lombardo band opened in 1914 at a club and played their first professional gig at an area casino. Eventually, the Lombardo group became the house band for a Lake Erie casino and were booked throughout Ohio where their music success seemed to hinge on advice their father gave them; perform music that people could “sing, hum, or whistle.” The Lombardo’s became acclaimed when Carmen produced a unique tone on the saxophone. Radio exposure made their popularity soar. Their agent suggested the band wear Canadian Mounties’ uniforms but Guy decided to instead call the band the Royal Canadians. A music critic described their music as the “sweetest jazzmen on any stage this side of Heaven” which Lombardo revised to “The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.” In the passing years (1929-1952) the Lombardo band recorded at least one hit a year. By the year 2000 they had sold close to 300 million records.
Their band bookings were legendary at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York and later at the Waldorf Astoria on CBS radio network broadcasts. Some of their major recordings were “Boo-Hoo,” “Charmaine,” “Managua, Nicaragua,” ”Stars Fell on Alabama,” “Red Sails in the Sunset,” and the ever popular, “Auld Lang Syne.
Guy Lombardo was not only a successful band leader, entertainer and business investor, he was also a national speedboat racer and champion in the1940s.
The band made its final appearance in London, Ontario in June of 1977. On November 5 of that same year, at the age of 75, Guy Lombardo died in Houston, TX, leaving his legacy and America’s New Year’s Eve’s, “Auld Lang Syne” for us all.