He formed the Royal Canadians in 1924 with his brothers Carmen, Lebert, and Victor, and other musicians from his hometown. They billed themselves as creating "the sweetest music this side of Heaven". The Lombardos are believed to have sold between 100 and 300 million records during their lifetimes, many featuring the band's lead singer, Kenny Gardner.
Lombardo was born in London, Ontario, to Italian immigrants, Gaetano Sr. and Lena Lombardo. His father, who had worked as a tailor, was an amateur singer with a baritone voice and had four of his five sons learn to play instruments so they could accompany him. Lombardo and his brothers formed their first orchestra while still in grammar school and rehearsed in the back of their father's tailor shop. Lombardo first performed in public with his brother Carmen at a church lawn party in London in 1914. His first recording session took place where trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke made his legendary recordings—in Richmond, Indiana, at the Gennett Studios—both during early 1924.
After that solitary Gennett session, they recorded two sessions for Brunswick, a rejected session in Cleveland in late 1926 and an issued session for Vocalion in early 1927. The band then signed to Columbia and recorded prolifically between 1927 and 1931. In early 1932, they signed to Brunswick and continued their success through 1934 when they signed to Decca (1934–35). They then signed to Victor in later 1935 and stayed until the middle of 1938 when again they signed to Decca.
In 1938, Lombardo became a naturalized citizen of the United States.
Although Lombardo's "sweet" big-band music was viewed by some in the jazz and big-band community of the day as "boring, mainstream pap", trumpeter Louis Armstrong regularly named Lombardo's band his favorite orchestra.
Lombardo is remembered for almost a half-century of New Year's Eve big band remotes, first on radio, then on television. His orchestra played at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 ("radio's first nationwide New Year's eve broadcast") to 1959, and from then until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Live broadcasts (and later telecasts) of their performances were a large part of New Year's celebrations across North America; millions of people watched the show with friends at house parties. Because of this popularity, Lombardo was called "Mr. New Year's Eve".
The band's first New Year's Eve radio broadcast was in 1928; within a few years, they were heard live on the CBS Radio Network before midnight Eastern Time, then on the NBC Radio Network after midnight.
On December 31, 1956, the Lombardo band did their first New Year's TV special on CBS; the program (and Lombardo's 20 subsequent New Year's Eve TV shows) included a live segment from Times Square. Although CBS carried most of the Lombardo New Year's specials, there were a few years in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the special was syndicated live to individual TV stations instead of broadcast on a network. By the middle 1970s, the Lombardo TV show was facing competition, especially for younger viewers, from Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, but Lombardo remained popular among viewers, especially older ones.
Even after Lombardo's death, the band's New Year's specials continued for two more years on CBS. The Royal Canadians' recording of the traditional song "Auld Lang Syne" still plays as the first song of the new year in Times Square.
Beginning June 14, 1953, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra had Guy Lombardo Time, the summer replacement for Jack Benny's radio program.
Lombardo and his orchestra were part of the 1934 film Many Happy Returns.
Lombardo was also an important figure in hydroplane speedboat racing, winning the Gold Cup in 1946 in his record-breaking speedboat, Tempo VI, designed and built by John L. Hacker. He then went on to win the Ford Memorial competition in 1948 and the President's Cup and the Silver Cup in 1952. From 1946 to 1949, he was the reigning US national champion. Before his retirement from the sport in the late 1950s, he had won every trophy in the field. In 1959 Lombardo was attempting a run on the absolute water speed record with the jet engine powered Tempo Alcoa when it was destroyed on a radio controlled test run doing over 250 miles per hour (400 km/h). After the destruction of the Tempo Alcoa, Lombardo retired from hydroplane racing. In 2002 he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame for his accomplishments.
Beginning in 1958, Lombardo endorsed the Guy Lombardo Royal Fleet, a line of fiberglass boats manufactured and sold by the United States Boat Corporation of Newark, New Jersey, a division of U.S. Pools Corporation. The boats were manufactured under license from Skagit Plastics of La Conner, Washington. The endeavor was short-lived and ended in 1961 with the closure of Skagit Plastics.
In his later years, Lombardo lived in Freeport, Long Island, New York where he kept Tempo, Tempo VI, and Tempo VII (built in 1955). He invested in a nearby seafood restaurant called "Liota's East Point House that eventually became "Guy Lombardo's East Point House." Lombardo became promoter and musical director of Jones Beach Marine Theater. The venue was built with him in mind by Robert Moses, a fan of Lombardo. One of Lombardo's productions at Jones Beach was Paradise Island in 1961. His final production there was the 1977 staging of Finian's Rainbow with Christopher Hewett in the title role.
On November 5, 1977, Lombardo suffered a fatal heart attack. Another source says he died "of a lung ailment." His wife was at his bedside when he died in Houston Methodist Hospital.
Victor Lombardo took over the band briefly but could not maintain it. When Lebert Lombardo severed his ties in 1979 the group dissolved. The orchestra was later revived in 1989 by Al Pierson, playing a mix of nostalgic tunes and modern arrangements.
Lombardo was featured on a postage stamp issued on December 17, 1999, as part of Canada Post's Millennium Collection.
Guy Lombardo has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles.
In 2002, he was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame and has a star on its Walk of Fame in Toronto. Lombardo was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2007.
The home where Guy Lombardo and his siblings grew up is still standing in London, Ontario, at 202 Simcoe Street. A plaque to the Lombardos has been moved from the exterior wall of the Labatt Retail Store at Richmond and Horton streets in London to the store's entranceway off the parking lot, denoting the site of a subsequent home of the Lombardos.
In his later home of Freeport, New York, there is Guy Lombardo Avenue. There is a bridge named after Lombardo in London, Ontario near Wonderland Gardens, as well as Lombardo Avenue in north London near the University of Western Ontario.
The Guy Lombardo Society is dedicated to preserving the music and history of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.
From the mid-1980s until 2007, there was a museum dedicated to Guy Lombardo in London, Ontario, near the intersection of Wonderland Road and Springbank Drive. In September 2007, lacking visitors and funding, the museum was closed. Although the city owned many of the exhibits, most of the collection can be found at the private home of former part-time curator Douglas Flood. City staff recommended that the museum not be reopened. In early 2015 Flood scheduled an auction of remaining items from the collection, under protest from members of the Lombardo family.
Lebert Lombardo's children also have a large collection of artifacts including photographs, record albums, sheet music, awards, and the band's framed first paycheck from 1918 in their homes and storage units in Fort Myers and Sanibel, Florida. They have tried to donate the collection to various universities and museums but have had no takers. The Library of Congress has a collection of Lombardo films.
Before the start of Billboard magazine's top 40 charts in 1940, Lombardo had over 140 hits from 1927–1940, including twenty-one No. 1 hits. The five biggest were "Charmaine", "It Looks Like Rain in Cherry Blossom Lane", "Boo-Hoo", "We Just Couldn't Say Goodbye", and "Red Sails in the Sunset."
The following singles made the "Top Ten" of the American Billboard singles charts from 1927–1940:
The following appeared on the Columbia Records label:
The following appeared on the Brunswick Records label:
The following appeared on the Decca Records label:
The following singles made the "Top Ten" of the Billboard Singles Charts, 1940–1952.
DECCA 12" Albums:Decca DL 9014 Guy Lombardo Presents Arabian Nights (1954)
Decca DL 8070 A Night At The Roosevelt With Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (1954)
Decca DL 8097 Lombardoland USA (1955)
Decca DL 8119 Guy Lombardo & His Twin Pianos (1955)
Decca DL 8135 Soft and Sweet (1955)
Decca DL 8136 Enjoy Yourself (1955)
Decca DL 8205 Waltztime (1956)
Decca DL 8208 The Band Played On (1956)
Decca DL 8249 Lombardoland Volume 1 (1956)
Decca DL 8251 Twin Piano Magic (1956)
Decca DL 8254 Everybody Dance to the Music (1956)
Decca DL 8255 Oh, How We Danced... (1956)
Decca DL 8256 Waltzland (1956)
Decca DL 8333 Silver Jubilee (1956)
Decca DL 8354 Jingle Bells (1956)
Decca DXM 154 The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven Vols. 1–4 (1957)
Decca DL 8843 Instrumentally Yours (1959)
Decca DL 8894 Sidewalks of New York (1959)
Decca DL 8895 Movieland Melodies (1959)
Decca DL 8898 Show Tunes (1959)
Decca DL 8962 Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven, A Musical Autobiography 1926–1932 (1960)
Decca DL 4123 The Sweetest Pianos This Side of Heaven (1960)
Decca DL 4149 Far Away Places (1962)
Decca DL 4117 New Year's Eve with Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (1962)
Decca DL 4180 Dance to the Songs Everybody Knows (1962)
Decca DL 4229 The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven 1932–1939 (1962)
Decca DL 4268 The Best Songs Are the Old Songs (1962)
Decca DL 4280 By Special Request (1962)
Decca DL 4288 Dancing Piano (1962)
Decca DL 4328 The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven 1941–1948 (1963)
Decca DL 4329 The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven 1949–1954 (1963)
Decca DL 4371 Play A Happy Song (1963)
Decca DL 4380 Golden Minstrel Songs for Dancing (1963)
Decca DL 4430 Golden Folk Songs for Dancing (1963)
Decca DL 4516 Italian Songs Everybody Knows (1964)
Decca DXB 185 The Best of Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians (1964)
Decca DL 4567 Snuggled on Your Shoulder (1964)
Decca DL 4593 Golden Medleys (1965)
Decca DL 4735 Dance Medley Time (1966)
Decca DL 4812 Guy Lombardo's Greatest Hits (1967)
Vocalion:VL 3605 Dance in the Moonlight (1958)
VL 3833 Here's Guy Lombardo (1968)
Capitol:Capitol W 738 Guy Lombardo in Hi-Fi (1956)
Capitol T 739 Your Guy Lombardo Medley Vol. 1 (1956)
Capitol T 788 A Decade on Broadway 1946–1956 (1956)
Capitol T 892 Lively Guy (1957)
Capitol T 916 A Decade on Broadway 1935–1945 (1958)
Capitol ST 1019 Berlin by Lombardo (1959)
Capitol ST 1121 Dancing Room Only (1959)
Capitol ST 1191 Lombardo Goes Latin (1959)
Capitol ST 1244 Your Guy Lombardo Medley Vol. 2 (1960)
Capitol ST 1306 The Sweetest Waltzes This Side of Heaven (1960)(reissued as SF522)
Capitol ST 1393 Lombardo at Harrah's Club (1960)
Capitol SKAO Sing The Songs of Christmas (1960)
Capitol ST 1453 Bells Are Ringing (1960)
Capitol ST 1461 The Best of Guy Lombardo (1961)
Capitol ST 1593 Drifting and Dreaming (1961)
Capitol ST 1598 Your Guy Lombardo Medley Vol. 3 (1961)
Capitol ST 1648 Guy Lombardo & The Royal Canadians Go Dixie (1962)
Capitol ST 1738 Waltzing with Guy Lombardo (1962)
Capitol 1843 Lombardo with a Beat (1963)
Capitol ST 1947 The Sweetest Medleys This Side of Heaven (1963)
Capitol ST 2052 Lombardo Touch (1964)
Capitol STDL The Lombardo Years (1964)
Capitol T 2298 Guy Lombardo Presents Kenny Gardner (1965)
Capitol T 2350 Guy Lombardo Plays Songs of Carmen Lombardo (1965)
Capitol ST 2481 A Wonderful Year (1966)
Capitol ST 2559 Guy Lombardo's Broadway (1966)
Capitol ST 2639 The Sweetest Sounds Today (1967)
Capitol ST 2777 Lombardo Country (1967)
Capitol ST 2825 Medleys On Parade (1967)
Capitol ST 2889 They're Playing Our Songs (1968)
Capitol SKAO 2940 The Best of Guy Lombardo Vol. 2 (1968)
Capitol ST 128 The New Songs The New Sounds
Capitol SM 340 Recorded Live at The Tropicana
London Records:London XPS904 Every Night Is New Year's Eve with Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians at The Waldorf Astoria (1973)
Pickwick (Capitol) Budget Compilations / Reissues:SPC 1011 – Deck the Halls
SPC 3073 – Sweet and Heavenly
SPC 3140 – Taking a Chance On Love
SPC 3193 – Enjoy Yourself
SPC 3257 – Red Roses for a Blue Lady
SPC 3312 – The Impossible Dream
SPC 3358 – Alley Cat
ACL 7057 – Guy Lombardo Plays (1977 reissue of RCA Camden CAL255, 1965)