Before Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest, by Rich Paschall
Perhaps “rockin'” is not the right word. Maybe “swaying” is better. Gaetano Alberto Lombardo was born in 1902 in Canada. He became popularly known as Guy Lombardo. In 1924 he formed a band with his three brothers and other musicians. They were known as The Royal Canadians. Soon they would hold court over New Year’s even for many decades.
In 1928 they were on the radio for New Year’s Eve. In 1929 they had the first nationwide radio broadcast on New Year’s Eve and played Auld Lang Syne as a number to ring in the New Year. From there they played it every year, making popular the song we can not seem to live without at midnight. The live broadcast moved to CBS television in 1956 and was the first of 21 consecutive New Year’s Eve TV shows for Guy. People waited up, not for the ball drop in Time’s Square, but for Guy to play Auld Lang Syne at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Think of Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians to be a band similar to Lawrence Welk, but without the bubbles.
Guy passed away in November of 1977 but the show went on for the next two years with one of the Lombardo brothers at the helm. After that, the band broke up and the tradition ended. In 1972 Dick Clark conceived a rock and roll special to bring in the New Year. It was meant to be a competition to Lombardo and draw in the younger audiences. The youngest of the midnight revelers likely do not remember Clark. They just see his name on the show’s title. They would have no idea who Guy Lombardo might be.
Not many of us remember the Lombardo broadcasts well. I remember seeing a number of them. With no parent at home, why not stay up until midnight Eastern time and watch The Royal Canadians play that famous song. Of course, we had no idea what the song was actually saying. We just knew it signaled the start of a New Year.