It was on this day in 1929 that Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians played Auld Lang Syne to usher in the New Year for the very first time, in their first annual New Year’s Eve Party at the Hotel Roosevelt Grill in New York.
Auld Lang Syne has become a tradition across the world to usher in a new year.
Born in London, Ont. in 1902, Lombardo is best known for almost a half-century of New Year’s Eve big band remotes, first on radio, and then on television. According to Wikipedia, Lombardo’s orchestra played at the Roosevelt Grill in the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City from 1929 to 1959, and from then until 1976 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Live broadcasts (and later telecasts) of their performances were a major 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 Dec. 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 (long the focal point of America’s New Year’s Eve celebrations) showcasing the arrival of the New Year. During the early years, pioneer broadcast journalist Robert Trout reported from Times Square; in later years, another longtime newsman, Ben Grauer, reported from Times Square, though Grauer worked for NBC.
While 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 being 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 in 1977, the band’s New Year’s specials continued for two more years on CBS. The Royal Canadians were noted for playing the traditional song Auld Lang Syne as part of the celebrations. Their recording of the song still plays as the first song of the new year in Times Square.