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Lombardo, Guy (actually, Gaetano Alberto)

Lombardo, Guy (actually, Gaetano Alberto)

Lombardo, Guy (actually, Gaetano Alberto), Canadian-born American bandleader; b. London, Ontario, June 19, 1902; d. Houston, Nov. 5, 1977. Lombardo’s Royal Canadians were the most popular big band on records in the 1930s, and, with sales of upwards of 100 million records, among the most successful recording artists of the first half of the 20th century. Anchored by the Lombardo brothers—Guy, Carmen, Lebert, and Victor—the Royal Canadians were a remarkably stable unit, many of the members staying for most or all of the group’s 50 continuous years of prominence. Their music was just as stable, the epitome of the “sweet” band sound of the 1920s and 1930s, with melody preeminent and carried largely by vibrato-laden saxophones, and tempos that were danceable without being frantic. This identifiable sound brought them 26 years’ worth of hits, the biggest of which were “Char-maine!” (1927), “September in the Rain” (1937), and “The Third Man Theme” (1950). The group’s annual New Year’s Eve performances on radio and television, culminating in midnight performances of their theme song, “Auld Lang Syne,” defined the holiday.

Lombardo’s parents were Gaetano Lombardo, an Italian-born tailor, and Angelina Paladino Lombardo. Encouraged by his parents, Lombardo began to study violin as a child; he attended St. Peter’s Catholic School in London, Ontario, from 1909 to 1920. At the age of 12 he formed a band with his brothers Carmen on flute and Lebert on drums, and with Fred Kreitzer on piano. By the time he was 21 the band had nine members and was called The Lombardo Brothers Orch. Carmen had switched to saxophone and become musical director, Lebert was playing trumpet, and the band also included drummer George Gowans, trombonist Jim Dillon, and guitarist Muff Henry, all of whom would stay with it for decades. Long-time members Fred Higman (sax), Bernard Davies (tuba), and Larry Owen (sax, clarinet, arrangements) joined later.

The group came to the U.S. in 1924, settling in Cleveland, and broadcast over local radio station WTAM, then appeared at the Claremont Café where they were billed as Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians; later, they had a residency at the Music Box restaurant. Lombardo married Lilliebell Glenn on Sept. 9, 1926.

The Lombardo orchestra had made its first recordings for tiny Gennett Records in 1924. By 1927 the group had achieved enough prominence to earn a contract with Columbia Records, a major label, and “Char-maine!” (music by Erno Rapee, lyrics by Lew Pollack) became their first best-seller in October. Meanwhile, Carmen Lombardo had become the band’s vocalist. He also wrote many of the songs the orchestra played.

Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians moved to Chicago, opening at the Granada Café in October 1927. On Nov. 16 they began to broadcast from the club on WBBW, and other stations soon signed on, forming a network and vastly increasing the band’s renown. They had a second top-selling record with “Sweethearts on Parade” (music by Carmen Lombardo, lyrics by Charles Newman) in January 1929.

On Oct. 3, 1929, the Royal Canadians moved to the Roosevelt Hotel Grill in N.Y., which would be their headquarters for much of the next 33 years. Since their radio show was sponsored by Robert Burns Panatella Cigars, they adopted as their theme song “Auld Lang Syne,” an 18th-century Scottish tune with words by poet Robert Burns; when they played it on New Year’s Eve, 1929, they began a tradition. (The youngest Lombardo brother, Victor, joined the band on saxophone in 1930.)

The Royal Canadians became the best-selling band of the early 1930s, their major hits including “You’re Driving Me Crazy! (What Did I Do?)” (music and lyrics by Walter Donaldson; December 1930), “By the River Sainte Marie” (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Edgar Leslie; March 1931), “(There Ought to Be a) Moonlight Saving Time” (music and lyrics by Irving Kahal and Harry Richman; June 1931), “Good Night, Sweetheart” (music and lyrics by Ray Noble, James Campbell, Reg Connelly, and Rudy Vallée; December 1931), “River, Stay ’Way from My Door” (vocals by Kate Smith; music by Harry Woods, lyrics by Mort Dixon; January 1932), “Too Many Tears” (music by Warren, lyrics by Al Dubin; March 1932), “Paradise” (music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Brown and Gordon Clifford; May 1932), “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” (music and lyrics by Woods; August 1932), “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me” (vocals by Bing Crosby; music by Warren, lyrics by Dubin; March 1933), and “The Last Round-Up” (music and lyrics by Billy Hill; November 1933).

For three years starting in 1933, Lombardo and The Royal Canadians moved to the West Coast, appearing at the Cocoanut Grove in L. A. While there, they made their first film appearance in Many Happy Returns (though the music was dubbed by Duke Ellington and His Orch.!), released in June 1934. Their biggest hit of the year came in November with “Stars Fell on Alabama” (music by Frank Perkins, lyrics by Mitchell Parish).

Lombardo’s first entry on the newly created hit parade in April 1935 was “What’s the Reason?” (music and lyrics by Coy Poe, Jimmie Grier, Truman “Pinky” Tomlin, and Earl Hatch); it went to the top in May. Lombardo returned to the #1 spot with “Red Sails in the Sunset” (music by Will Grosz, lyrics by Jimmy Kennedy) in November. In 1936 he topped the hit parade with “Lost” (music by Phil Ohman, lyrics by Johnny Mercer and Macy O. Teetor) in April and with “When Did You Leave Heaven?” (music by Richard A. Whiting, lyrics by Walter Bullock) in October.

In 1937, the year he became an American citizen, Lombardo had an amazing six #1 records on the hit parade, four of which were among the ten biggest hits of the year, including the two most popular songs. “When My Dreamboat Comes Home” (music and lyrics by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin) had a week at the top in March; “Boo Hoo” (music by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo, lyrics by Edward Heyman), the fifth biggest hit of the year, was #1 for six weeks in April and May; “September in the Rain” (music by Warren, lyrics by Dubin), the biggest hit of the year, took over the top spot for five weeks in May and June; “It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Time” (music by Joe Burke, lyrics by Edgar Leslie), the second biggest hit of the year, spent six weeks at #1 in July and August; “Sailboat in the Moonlight” (music and lyrics by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo), the sixth biggest hit of the year, had three weeks on top of the hit parade in August; and “So Rare” (music by Jerry Herst, lyrics by Jack Sharpe) was #1 for a week in September.

In the wave of sweet swing bands influenced by the Royal Canadians, Lombardo was unable to maintain his dominance of the record charts in the late 1930s; he returned to #1 in April 1944 with “It’s Love-Love-Love” (music and lyrics by Alex Kramer, Joan Whitney, and Mack David) and in March 1947 with “Managua—Nicaragua” (music by Irving Fields, lyrics by Albert Gamse), and his recordings of “Humoresque” (music by Anton Dvorak; 1944), “Christmas Island” (music and lyrics by Lyle Moraine; vocals by The Andrews Sisters; 1946), and “Easter Parade” (music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; 1947) were reported to be million-sellers. He also had three Top Ten albums in the late 1940s, Lombardoland(1946), Guy Lombardo Featuring the Twin Pianos (1947), and Lombardo—Waltzes(1947).

Lombardo enjoyed his last #1 hit, and the biggest hit of his long career, with the million-seller “The Third Man Theme” (music by Anton Karas) in May 1950. Two of his albums, Guy Lombardo Featuring the TwinPianosVol. 2 and Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians Silver Jubilee, 1925–50, were Top Ten hits during the year.

Lombardo branched out into television in 1953, hosting the music show Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians on a local station in N.Y., and he took his New Year’s Eve broadcast to TV for the first time in 1954. That year he also began producing musical shows at an outdoor theater at Jones Beach on Long Island, continuing for 24 summers. His nationally broadcast TV series Guy Lombardo’s Diamond Jubilee ran during the spring of 1956. He returned to the album charts with Your Guy Lombardo Medley in 1957 and Berlin by Lombardo in 1958.

Lombardo moved his New Year’s Eve appearance from the Roosevelt Hotel to the Waldorf-Astoria in 1962 (and ushered in 1964 from Grand Central Station), but otherwise his activities remained unchanged through the 1960s. The band suffered a major loss when Carmen Lombardo died in 1971, but Guy Lombardo continued to lead it until his own death from a heart attack at the age of 75, after which it continued for a time under the leadership of Lebert Lombardo, and then Lebert’s son Bill.

Writings

With J. Altshul, Aula Acquaintance: An Autobiography (Garden City, N.Y., 1975).

Bibliography

B. Herndon, The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven: The Story of G. L.(N.Y., 1964); B. Cline, The L. Story(Don Mills, Ontario, 1979); S. Richman, G.: The Life and Times of G. L.(N.Y., 1980).

—William Ruhlmann

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