Guy Lombardo

While his “sweet” interpretation of American jazz music was panned by critics throughout Guy Lombardo’s fifty-year career, it proved to be popular among record-buying and concert-attending audiences. Lombardo was born in Ontario in 1902. His father was an amateur singer who taught his sons instruments in order to accompany him. Lombardo and his brothers organized their first orchestra, practiced in the back of their father’s tailor shop, and played at their first public gathering in 1914. By 1924, the band had achieved regional acclaim and relocated to Cleveland, Ohio where it rebranded as the Royal Canadians and recorded for Gennett. It recorded for various labels before moving to Columbia in 1927. Through 1931, for Columbia, the Royal Canadians, with Lombardo as bandleader, recorded prolifically and had upwards of thirty hit records. Their popularity, bolstered by regular radio performances, was maintained after a move to Brunswick in 1932. Through 1954 the Royal Canadians had a series of hits for Victor and Decca. From 1929 until 1976, Guy Lombardo led his band on the nation’s first New Year’s Eve radio broadcast, which popularized “Auld Lang Syne” as a holiday classic. The broadcasts eventually evolved into telecasts for CBS but, by the mid-1970s, competition from Dick Clark and others had drawn Lombardo’s younger audience, though he remained popular among older listeners. Outside his music, Lombardo was an award-winning hydroplane speedboat racer. He was the United States champion from 1946 through 1949 and only retired in 1959 after a boat he was using to try and break a speed record was destroyed during a radio-controlled test run. Lombardo died from a heart attack in 1977 and his band dissolved in 1979 after his brothers failed to keep it together. It is estimated that, at the time of his death, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians had sold between 100 and 300 million albums worldwide.