Variety once described Guy Lombardo as "the only Canadian ever to create an American tradition." Lombardo and his legendary Royal Canadians did indeed own New Year's Eve with their signature rendition of the Robbie Burns classic, "Auld Lang Syne". But his legacy is far greater.
Gaetano Alberto Lombardo Jr. was born into a musical family in London, Ontario on June 19, 1902. His father, a tailor, put a violin in his son's hands at an early age, but smashed the instrument to pieces when the younger Gaetano constantly refused to play the classics the way they were written.
From a duet in 1914 with his brother Carmen on flute, Lombardo worked his way up to become the most successful orchestra leader in London by 21. He would eventually trade his violin for a conductor's baton and the trademark banter he would engage in with couples as they danced by the stage.
In November 1923, the band, which had grown to ten members, left Ontario for Cleveland, Ohio to find success in the United States. In March 1924, the Royal Canadians recorded their first album (with Lombardo on violin).
Between 1929 and 1952, a year did not pass without the Royal Canadians appearing on the charts with "the sweetest music this side of heaven," an achievement made even "sweeter" with 21 number-one hits.
The Guy Lombardo New Year's Eve Party premiered at New York's prestigious Waldorf Astoria Hotel on December 31, 1929, and featured "Auld Lang Syne", a piece the Royal Canadians first played for a Scottish audience in Glencoe. The New Year's Eve Party grew into the longest running annual special broadcast in radio history. In 1954, over 1.5 million viewers tuned in to see the first live telecast. Presidents of the United States from Roosevelt to Carter would traditionally call Lombardo to wish him well on "Lombardo's Day."
An American institution and Canadian ambassador to the world, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians have sold an estimated 500 million albums, but he 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. Forever a proud Canadian, he will always be remembered as Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.
In addition to music, Guy Lombardo was quite an accomplished speedboat racer. In the 1940s, he won four American Gold Cup national championships.