During this holiday season, if you listen to vintage Christmas tunes you will at one point run across Guy Lombardo, particularly at New Years Eve with the famous song ‘Auld Lang Syne. But did you know that this famous Big Band Leader was a Canadian? Yes Mister Lombardo was born in London, Ontario the same city where my mother was born and raised and 1 hour from my hometown of Sarnia.
Guy (Gaetano Alberto) was born in London, Ontario, June 19, 1902 to Italian immigrant parents and was the eldest of seven children—five boys and two girls—born between 1902 and 1924. His father, who had worked as a tailor, was an amateur singer with a baritone voice and had four of his five sons learn to play instruments so they could accompany him (Guy learned the Violin).
Lombardo and his brothers formed their first orchestra while still in grammar school and rehearsed in the back of their father’s tailor shop (Source).
1917 was the year that Guy would trade in the Violin for a conductor’s baton and in the summer of 1919 the band (which still included some of his brothers) fulfilled its first significant engagement at an outdoor dance pavilion in Grand Bend, Ont.
A new name is formed and a new Country adopted
After a couple of different gigs in Ontario, 21-year-old Guy decided that the group was wasting its time in Canada. Within a few weeks he left London and headed to Cleveland, Ohio in the winter of 1923. This move would forever change the band by helping them to find their distinct sound and start them onto a path of success that Guy and the band never thought would happen in Canada.
To attract more followers (outside of paid gigs in clubs), Guy paid for air time on US radio’s. A move that helped build his audience and boost his popularity. By 1924 the bands agent wanted to dress the band members in Canadian Mountie uniforms to enhance their look, but Lombardo balked and countered with a proposal of his own: calling the band the Royal Canadians (Source).
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians is born.
Success came quickly for the band after that and they were coined by the Chicago Tribune in 1928 as having ‘the sweetest music this side of Heaven’.
33 year residency is acquired
In 1929 the band began a 33-year residency at the Roosevelt Grill in New York. This is where the famous annual broadcasted New Years celebrations would begin for the band.
Youngest Sister Joins the Band
Guy and his brothers asked Rose Marie to join the Royal Canadians as a singer and she began performing with the band in 1941 at age 16 (source).
In 1934 Guy and the Royal Canadians performed one of the most successful recordings of Winter Wonderland. It actually was a top 10 hit at the time of introduction. Then in 1946 it was brought back with the Andrew Sisters at the Helm and Guy and his band accompanying them for a more Boogie Woogie Version.
I honestly prefer the Andrew Sisters version the best (but you take a listen and let me know what you like).
Andrew Sisters Version
Possible Canadian Mention in “Christmas Island” with the Andrew Sisters
Working with the Andrew Sisters on the song Christmas Island the sisters sing the choruses song as, “Aloha – eh!“. It’s rumored that it was a node to Guy’s Canadian Roots (source).
Side Note: I have not been able to find this version with the “eh” but it was still fun to add to this post.
Over 100 million records sold Between 1927 and 1954. AND between that time there wasn’t a single year the band didn’t produce a record that hit the charts, many of them going to No. 1 (21 number-one hits to be exact).
The band also set an audience attendance record at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. It was 1930 and 3,715 paying customers saw Guy Lombardo play the famed Ballroom (Source).
Not just a band leader….
Guy was also a well-known Speed boat racer and won many awards including winning the 1946 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River (plus many more after that).
Auld Lang Syne
He became an institution hosting televised New Year’s Eve broadcasts from New York, making his rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” a national standard and his lasting legacy.
The Guy Lombardo New Year’s Eve Party premiered at New York’s Roosevelt Grill on December 31, 1929 and would play there until around 1959 (note: this date has changed several times in my research) where he went on to have his New Years celebrations at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel until 1976.
It’s also important to note for those who might not be aware that Guy Lombardo New Years parties were originally heard live on the CBS Radio Network before midnight Eastern Time, then on the NBC Radio Network after midnight.
On Dec. 31, 1956, the Lombardo band did their first New Year’s TV special on CBS; the program included a live segment from Times Square showcasing the arrival of the New Year. This would carry on till 1976.
Variety once described Guy Lombardo as “the only Canadian ever to create an American tradition” (Source).
Only Canadian to have three stars on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame
Comedian Bob Hope is the only one that has more. The practice of giving out more than one star has been discounted (source).
Never forgot his roots
In 1937, a great flood deluged parts of London. Lombardo cancelled a performance in nearby Detroit to return home to play a benefit concert for the victims.
Between 1955 and his death in 1977, Lombardo appeared in London nearly 20 times (Source).
He also came back to Canada to play in other venues during his career, like in Toronto at the CNE in 1937.
Canada Post even issued him a stamp in December 1999 (Yes we love him that much).
Guy suddenly passed away in November of 1977.
In the end you make think of Guy Lombardo as “cheesy” as it was often joked that he was but you really honestly cannot deny that he knew what he was doing as a Band Leader and brought us music that is still listened to today. AND by the way…Louis Armstrong LOVED his music (source) which makes him even cooler in my mind now.