Although the name Guy Lombardo is most closely identified with the dance band known as the Royal Canadians, his younger brother was the real power behind the organization.
Carmen Lombardo was born in London, Ontario on July 16, 1903. Both he and Guy began taking music lessons at the same time, Guy on violin and Carmen on flute. Over the years, Carmen would switch to saxophone while Guy would just pick up a conductor's baton. The boys made their public debut together in 1914 at a church function. This simple duet was the start of a musical partnership that would last over 55 years.
The band's move to the United States in 1923 brought new opportunities for Carmen as a songwriter and vocalist. Although Carmen's overly formal singing style dated quickly, many of his compositions enjoyed a healthy shelf life with the Royal Canadians. It's easy to see the band's history in a casual listing of Carmen's songs.
Cy (1924) was among the first numbers the fledgling band recorded. Coquette and Sweethearts on Parade (both 1928) were the group's first big hits. 1937's Boo-Hoo with a vocal by Carmen remained the band's most successful recording. Other standards penned by Carmen include Seems Like Old Times (1945) and Powder Your Face with Sunshine (1948).
While the bulk of Lombardo's compositions have not stood the test time, tunes like Old Times are still referenced in films like Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Allen has even been audacious enough to use Lombardo recordings in period films like Bullets Over Broadway.
Carmen also wrote several tunes for the family's annual Jones Beach musicals, the most famous being Mumbo Jumbo which the Royal Canadians recorded with Louis Armstrong. On the novelty side, Carmen wrote quirky numbers like Play Ball with the New York Mets, an ode to the hapless baseball team of the early 1960s.
There were also unsuccessful attempts to write Lombardo-specific songs that traded on the band's image. These included the 1934 composition The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven that borrowed on the orchestra's famous tag line and Happy New Year, Darling (1946) which Carmen wrote with Johnny Marks, the author of such seasonal hits like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
Over the course of half a century, Carmen wrote scores of other tunes, usually in partnership with John Jacob Loeb. Other creative partners included Jimmy Monaco, Cliff Friend, Gus Kahn, Gene Austin, Art Kassel, Sam Coslow, Irving Caeser and Roy Turk.
Carmen Lombardo succumbed to cancer on April 17, 1971, shortly after composing his final song, What Have We Done to Our World? It was a somber ecology anthem that stands in sharp contrast with the rest of his work.
"They (the songs) kept him from thinking about the pain those last few months of his life," Carmen's widow explained. "He wrote six of them besides the ecology thing…The songs kept him alive an extra four months."