the lombardo orchestra circa 1920
THIS MONTH IN LONDON HISTORY library of historic London events on a month by month basis
DIG AROUND THE ARCHIVES listing of website archives by subject
LINKS TO LONDON HISTORY list of other website with a London Ontario Canada heritage theme
HOME PAGE for Doty Docs
ABOUT DOTY DOCS information on the company and its owner Chirstopher Doty
CONTACT US codty@odyssey.on.ca
LOMBARDO WING website dedicated to the hometown roots of bandleader Guy Lombardo
grand theatre wing
hangings of london
 

Lebert Lombardo
The Third Guy
by Christopher Doty

lebert lombardo 1921The Three Stooges had Larry Fine. The Marx Brothers had Chico. The Three Tenors have Jose Carreras. And the Lombardo band had Lebert - that third performer who destined to be a supporter rather than a star.

Libratore was the third of the Lombardo children when he was born in London, Ontario on February 11, 1905. Like brothers Guy and Carmen, Lebert was encouraged to study music at a young age. His father gave him a harp to play, which Lebert quickly ditched in favour of an army bugle and then a set of drums. Although his playing style was handicapped by a hockey injury (a wild puck had knocked out one of his front teeth), Lebert eventually settled on the trumpet.

By the early 1920s Lebert was in great demand as a jazz soloist. Jean Goldkette considered him the equal of Bix Beiderbecke and attempted to lure him to his Detroit-based band. However, Lebert remained true to the family orchestra, following Guy and Carmen through their moves to Cleveland, Chicago and New York.

During their first rush of success in the late 1920s all of the brothers capitalized on the cache of the Lombardo name. Like Carmen, Lebert co-authored a number of songs. Unlike Carmen, all of them nosedived into obscurity.

Lebert occasionally put his trumpet down and stepped up to the microphone as a vocalist. His crooning style, similar to Carmen's, can be heard on the band's successful cover of Bing Crosby's When My Dreamboat Comes Home. He sang sporadically with the band until 1940, when he made room for singer-turned-brother-in-law, Kenny Gardner.

For the next 40 years, his pinpoint trumpet passages would became one of the trademarks of the Lombardo sound. Lebert settled into role of the perennial sideman until Guy's death in November 1977.

It was obvious to everyone, including Lebert, that he lacked the stage presence to fill Guy's shoes. His prickly younger brother Victor was brought in for the 1977 New Year's broadcast but it was only a matter of time before tensions escalated and the Royal Canadians resumed their search for a new leader.

In March 1978 Lebert asked his 31-year-old son Bill to head the band. Audiences responded well to the dashing young leader who doubled on the drums - particularly during a homecoming gig at Wonderland Gardens that May. It seemed the Royal Canadians had dodged the bullet of Guy's death.

"I want to keep the band working," Bill told an interviewer. "What I have basically is a fantastic name that is gold all over the world. I want to keep the band on top."

But the transition didn't go as smoothly as some fans had hoped. In 1979 Bill opened the band's New Year's Eve telecast with Auld Lang Syne - in a disco arrangement. Older fans were appalled while younger viewers fell to the floor in hysterics. The Royal Canadians had made some misguided musical decisions in the past (just listen to their laughable 1968 cover of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson) messing with the band's theme song was unforgivable. The band lost its coveted spot at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York city and CBS Television declined to renew its broadcasting contract.

While always proud of his family's musical legacy, Bill Lombardo was beginning to have second thoughts about remaining at the helm of the Royal Canadians.

"At the time, I was asked to license the orchestra from the estate, and in negotiations, we couldn't come to an agreement satisfactory to me," he recalls. "Also, I realized that I did not want to settle for a life on the road away from my family."

Bill stepped down and Lebert retired from the band, ending their family's 60 year musical stewardship. The band was just a shell after that, carrying on under leaders like Art Mooney, Joe Cipriano, Tony Baron and Al Pierson.

Lebert Lombardo died on June 16, 1993. His daughter, Gina, currently manages the Guy Lombardo estate.