Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians (courtesy of londonbigbands)

There is no doubt that Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians put London Ontario on the music map during the Big Band era.

Guy (Gaetano Alberto) Lombardo was born on June 19, 1902, in London, Ontario, Canada, to Gaetano and Lena Lombardo. Lombardo senior, who had immigrated to Canada from Italy, worked as a tailor, and the family lived on a small house on Queens Avenue in the town of London Ontario. Guy was theLombardoeldest of seven children, five boys and two girls, born between 1902 and 1924 and took violin lessons from another Italian immigrant Prof. Venuta. In 1914 Guy with brothers Liebert (drums), Carmen (flute) and neighbour Kreitzer (piano) formed a quartet and played for the local Italian community. In 1920 they heard records of Paul Whitemans band and immediately became fascinated with the sound. They changed instruments to emulate it, Carmen to sax and Liebert to trumpet. By 1922 the group expanded to include more saxes, trumpets and trombone.

In the spring of 1923 the Lombardo brothers were hired as the house band for the Hopkins Casino at Port Stanley on Lake Erie. After the band started its second season at the Winter Gardens in London, the 21-year-old Guy decided that the group was wasting its time in Canada, 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. 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.

The musical team played at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 to 1959, and their New Year’s Eve broadcasts (which continued with Lombardo until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria) were a major part of New Year’s celebrations across North America. Even after Lombardo’s death, the band’s New Year’s specials continued for air two more years on CBS

Lombardo never forgot his friends in Ontario,, and when the Thames River, London Ontario flooded in 1937 he staged a benefit for flood victims in Detroit’s Fox Theatre. The band opened this engagement with a rendition of Home Sweet Home, moving some in the audience to tears.


One Response to “Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians (courtesy of londonbigbands)”

  1. Average Joe Says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t locate a place online to purchase a collection of those New Year’s broadcasts. They’d be fun to watch and own :/ I only found a few years available.

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