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Guy Lombardo

Guy Lombardo was more than just an orchestra leader, he was an institution. Every New Year's Eve at the stroke of midnight millions of listeners from all across America would tune in, via radio and later television, to hear Lombardo and His Royal Canadians play their familiar theme song, ''Auld Lang Syne.'' Lombardo was the consummate bandleader. He presented the kind of music that the general public wanted to hear and to which they wanted to dance, what he called the ''Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.''

The son of an immigrant tailor, Lombardo grew up in a musical family. Brother Carmen played flute and saxophone, while brother Lebert (Liebert) played drums and trumpet. Younger brother, Victor, played clarinet and sax. Guy himself learned the violin as a child and formed a dance band with his brothers in 1916. The group proved popular in the area around their London, Ontario, home, and in November 1923 they traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to make an attempt on the American market.

In March of 1924 the Lombardos' band recorded several songs for the Gennett label. These recordings reveal the group's early jazz roots. Their sound differed little from that of other white bands of the era, however, and the recordings sold poorly. They soon realized that changes were needed if the orchestra was going to survive. They began to develop their own brand of sweet music, focusing on melody over improvisation. Brother Carmen also helped create a distinct saxophone sound which gave them instant listener recognition and helped set them apart from all the other bands. Their big break finally came in Chicago in 1927 when Guy paid radio station WBBM to broadcast a fifteen-minute segment of their performance at the Granada Cafe. By the end of the night the ballroom was packed and the radio station had received so many calls that they extended the broadcast further into the evening.

Around this time Guy gave up his violin for a baton and began to front the band. This proved a positive move, as his bright, outgoing personality was perfect for the orchestra's image. He would banter with the audience as they danced near the bandstand, laughing, joking, and putting everyone in a good mood. Also around this time the band took the name ''Royal Canadians'' as a compromise when their agent tried to convince them to dress as Mounties.

In October of 1929 the Lombardo orchestra began a long booking into the Roosevelt Grill in New York City. Radio broadcasts on WABC helped draw a crowd, so much so that on December 31st a competition developed over the rights to the show. A compromise was reached. CBS broadcasted the first half, up to the stroke of midnight, and NBC the other half, after midnight. It was at that time when Lombardo began his tradition of playing ''Auld Lang Syne'' to a national audience on New Year's Eve, one that would last until his death, from the Roosevelt Hotel until 1966 and then from the Waldorf-Astoria.

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