For nearly fifty years orchestra leader Guy Lombardo rang in the new year with millions watching and listening.
Long before Ryan Seacrest, Anderson Cooper and even Dick Clark, Guy Lombardo was ‘Mr. New Years Eve’. Millions of radios and televisions were tuned in annually to watch and listen to Lombardo lead his Royal Canadians orchestra to ring in the new year with the sounds of what they billed as ‘the sweetest music this side of Heaven’.
Lombardo and his orchestra would set up in a hotel ballroom and their performance would be broadcast to millions of New Years revelers. The tradition last from 1928 to 1976 – a year before Lombardo’s death. He was a staple of New Years Eve for most of the century. It was in the 1970’s when Dick Clark and his Rockin’ Eve telecast appeared that started to give Lombardo a bit of New Years Eve competition.
I became familiar with Lombardo because of my father. He was a huge fan of his and would tell me he watched him every New Year’s Eve. Even after they ended Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve broadcasts my father continued to listen to his Lombardo records every December 31st. Lombardo was always a presence in our house.
Watching clips of those old New Year’s Eve shows they look so quaint, yet classy compared to what we see today. It really looks worlds away from the shows that now play on New Years Eve. Most of them are such over-produced, dull and shallow broadcasts I can never endure them. Bland hosts attempting humorous banter introducing lip sync’d musical performances. They’re really grueling to sit through.
Lombardo’s shows are so much simpler and truly look like different era. A bunch of older, square-looking guys performing on a stage, people slow dancing the floor (all dressed up like it’s a wedding), no embarrassing attempted rehearsed bantering going on, just short introductions of the next song they’re going to play with well dressed folks dancing to it.
I could see how Lombardo’s New Years Eve shows were the perfect thing to have on in the background of parties throughout the 20th century. It was like playing a record and having his music fill the rooms while everyone was drinking, joking and reminiscing about the past year. It’s a very elegant kind of way to ring in the New Year, compared to listening to today’s hosts tell unfunny jokes and see people wave at the cameras in Times Square.
Would a broadcast like this ever fly today?
I guess Lombardo’s New Years Eve shows wouldn’t be as big of a hit with later generations. I don’t think many people even know who Lombardo is today. The concept of popular bandleaders who a country all knew and would buy millions of their records is kind of a far away concept now. It’s a different time when Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Lawrence Welk, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey would be an older generations equivalent to Beyoncé.
If any of the networks attempted to show something like his older shows on New Years Eve there would be a lot of updating needed to take place. Lombardo probably would get a makeover to make him look more television friendly to younger viewers. They’d probably give him a young attractive co-host he could trade badly scripted jokes with. His orchestra would certainly get an upgrade with their wardrobe. Them looking like they’re sitting in an Elk Lodge meeting would not impress young viewers.
A regular old stage would be redesigned with a lot of television screens and LED lights flashing all over the place. The stage would probably be made bigger to accommodate a group of sexy dancers to shake their booties to Lombardo’s tunes. Lombardo who used to be upfront and center would be pushed back to make room for The Lombardo Dancers adorning sheer outfits and high heels. Maybe they’d have a G.L on their butts.
Anyway, I always found it kind of shame that Lombardo isn’t as remembered as I would think he would be. Odds are say his name to an older person they’d immediately know him and a flood of memories would come back watching him on New Years Eve. Mention his name to someone under thirty and they’d probably just scratch their head and say, “I never heard of him. I have heard of Dick Clark though.”
A clip of Lombardo’s final New Years broadcast. What a different broadcast experience from today, huh?
And Lombardo and the Royal Canadians playing Auld Lang Syne – how many millions of people listened to this while toasting each other to the New Year?