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Lombardo, Guy (1902-1977)

Lombardo, Guy (1902-1977)

For 48 years band-leader Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians, featuring the lead saxophone and singing of his brother Carmen and the lead trumpet of brother Lebert, continued the tradition of New Year's Eve broadcasts on radio or television from New York City. They presented programs of easy-listening, low-key dance music that climaxed with "Auld Lang Syne" at the ringing in of the New Year. Jazz music buffs labeled Lombardo "the king of corn," but loyal fans of his music, billed as "the sweetest music this side of heaven," bought more than 250,000,000 of his recordings.

Pop music critic George T. Simon explains the band's phenomenal success: "It hits superb tempos, and though it doesn't produce a rhythmically inspiring beat, it produces a succession of steady, unobtrusive beats that make it a pleasure to take your girl out on the floor and move around to the best of your ability. If you can dance at all, you can dance to Lombardo's music." He added that "Lombardo, with his years and years of experience, knows how to select tunes that create a mood, an intimate, cozy mood." In fact, Guy Lombardo claimed to have introduced more than three hundred songs to the public.

From its beginning in 1923 in their home town of London, Ontario, the band was a close-knit group, with brothers Guy, Carmen, and Lebert sharing ownership. Two other siblings, Rose Marie and Victor, joined the band later. Though the original three brothers had an equal share in the orchestra's profits, Guy was, as Decca Records producer Milt Gabler remarked, the "complete boss. No matter what anybody else says or thinks, if Guy feels strongly about something, that's it." He apparently used his authority tactfully, for Larry Barnett, a top talent agency executive, said: "Guy Lombardo is the nicest man that's ever been in the music business."

One of the band's engagements in Cleveland caught the eye of the then-new Music Corporation of America (MCA), and the career of the Royal Canadians was well launched, leading to their first national broadcast in 1927, from Chicago. By 1929 the orchestra was the winter attraction at Manhattan's Roosevelt Grill, where they were booked perennially for 30 years. When the Grill closed, the band moved to the Waldorf-Astoria, which became the annual site of its famous year-ending broadcasts.

Already selling more recordings than any other band, through the years the orchestra continued to add other superlatives: It played more Presidential Inaugural Balls than any other big name dance band. It also introduced more hit songs: "Boo Hoo," "Coquette," "Sweethearts on Parade," "Seems Like Old Times" (all four written by Carmen), "Give Me a Little Kiss," "You're Driving Me Crazy," "Heartaches," "Little White Lies," "Little Girl," "Annie Doesn't Live Here Anymore," and "Everywhere You Go," to name only a few. It also set many all-time attendance marks at various venues, including the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem.

In the 1960s Guy turned to other activities. He was a well-known speedboat racer, winning the Gold Cup, the sport's highest honor. He also became immensely wealthy, drawing large royalties from music publishing ventures, opening successful restaurants on Long Island and in Tampa Bay, Florida, and producing popular shows at the Jones Beach Marine Theater on Long Island. His nationwide tours with the Royal Canadians, playing to packed houses, continued into the late 1970s.

When asked to explain his phenomenal success, Lombardo answered simply: "Bands happened, musicians happened. And we happened." Others would point to the band's professional, businesslike approach to its work and its persistence in staying with a winning formula. "We really have never changed," Guy once said. "We've improved, yes, but we never have changed." He added, "Anything that's popular, I like."

—Benjamin Griffith

Further Reading:

Simon, George T. The Big Bands. New York, MacMillan, 1974.

Walker, Leo. The Wonderful World of the Great Dance Bands. New York, Da Capo, 1990.

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