Auld Lang Syne: Guy Lombardo
If you enjoy the countdown to midnight every December 31st, you probably have your required list of supplies for the celebration: a couple of noisemakers, a glass of bubbly, someone to kiss when the clock strikes midnight.. and of course, music. For almost 50 years music on New Year's Eve meant tuning in to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.
Guy Lombardo owned New Year's Eve. In fact, the live broadcast of his show on December 31st was so popular that he was known as "Mr. New Year's Eve." Guy and the band cultivated a trademark sound early on that people loved almost as soon as they heard it. It was considered revolutionary at the time: the soft, mellow saxophones, muted trumpets, slow tempos, symphonic style always presented with top-notch musicianship. His concerts were elegant affairs. Imagine grand ballrooms filled with guests dressed to the nines, a fine suit or maybe even a tuxedo, or stylish frock. If you weren't sitting at your table enjoying a cocktail, you might be swaying across the dance floor to the sweet sounds of the band. And on stage, the band in red tuxes with Guy Lombardo in black, baton in hand and gently swaying and dancing as he conducted.
From humble beginnings in London, Ontario, a move to the U.S. and first recordings in the 1920s, the band's popularity soared. By 1954 Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians had sold over 100 million records and played at the inaugural balls of every U.S. president from Franklin Roosevelt to Dwight Eisenhower and again in 1985 for Ronald Reagan.
One thing you might not know about Guy Lombardo is that he was a champion boat racer, specializing in hydroplane boats. Between 1946 and 1949 he was the reigning U.S. national champion of the sport. The name of his beloved race boat? Tempo, of course.
Guy Lombardo is known for many things, but surely his signature was New Year's Eve. On December 31st 1976, Barbara Frum and Alan Maitland of As It Happens talked to him as he was preparing for the big extravaganza. It was Guy Lombardo's last New Year as he died the following November, 1977. The band was taken over briefly by brother Victor, but after brother Lebert left, was dissolved.
Over their long career, Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians had over 500 hit songs. In fact by the early 1970s total sales exceeded 300 million, making it the most popular dance band ever. Their recording of Auld Lang Syne still plays as the first song of the New Year of Times Square in New York.