“New Year’s Eve with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians” was a long-standing hotel, radio, and television tradition for large swaths of the American public for some fifty years. The smooth dance orchestra would play popular music and Broadway hits in its “smooth swing” style and be there for the countdown to midnight when the ball dropped in Times Square and “Auld Lang Syne” was sung to ring in the New Year.
Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians [and the] Henrico Theatre…gracefully invited patrons into the golden age of the dance bands.
Audiences at the Henrico Theatre outside of Richmond enjoyed something of this tradition on a cold, windy January night in a performance by Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians. Mr. Enroughty, born after the passing of Royal Canadian bandleader Guy Lombardo, discovered this once-popular music in his youth and was immediately enamored of this dance orchestra consisting of brass, reeds, and occasionally flutes, tuba, and an accordion. He proceeded to found an orchestra with a music style and even a name heavily influenced by Lombardo—Joe Enroughty and His Royal Virginians.
In previous performances, Mr. Enroughty has conducted performances of Guy Lombardo hits of the past such as “Coquette” and “Sweethearts on Parade”—Lombardo recordings first produced in the 1920s. The band has played hits of the Swing Era of the 1940s in big band jazz tempo and style. This evening there was a twist. Eschewing Lombardo hits, they played most songs in the sweet, signature Lombardo style, noting it is, after all, “so close to New Year’s Eve.”
The Lombardo style proved an unusual but surprisingly fresh approach to country staples such as Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line,” sixties pop hits like Burt Bacharach’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” and Broadway melodies such as “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
The audience was especially “in the mood” for the big band music of Glenn Miller. Anticipating this, Mr. Enroughty began the evening’s performance with “In the Mood,” which his band played to perfection in a near identical arrangement to the Glenn Miller classic. The trumpets of Stephen Moser and John Greenberg and the trombones of Russ Robertson and Erik Stegall were prominent and in fine swing performances for Miller’s “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” which additionally featured the band members chanting the one lyric to the song in unison. A far more mellow, Lombardo-inspired approach was in store for the lesser-heard Miller ballad, “Indian Summer.” The Duke Ellington band was saluted in a lively performance of “Satin Doll” and Count Basie’s orchestra recalled in “Kansas City.” A sonorous yet swinging saxophone solo was played by Fred Vaughn on the latter.
The Royal Virginians played a number of Latin dance numbers once popular with big bands, including the “Frenesi” of Artie Shaw, the “Andalucía” (“The Breeze and I”) of Jimmy Dorsey, and the “Two for Tea Cha-Cha” of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. While paying tribute to these swing/Latin amalgamations, the band would again turn to the Lombardo sound, which is closer in style to a ballroom dance orchestra than a jazz band. Although Mr. Enroughty reminded the audience that this was dance music, audience members preferred to listen, even when they left behind the easy-listening style during lively, pounding versions of Ray Anthony’s “Bunny Hop” and Les Elgart’s “Bandstand Boogie” (once the theme of the television mainstay “American Bandstand”).
A pair of excellent singers are featured in the Enroughty aggregation, namely Tony Ingram and Deborah Leone. Tony sang the moving Broadway tune “Once Upon a Time,” which proved very appropriate to an evening of nostalgia and recalling the Great American Songbook. Deborah ended the evening with a poignant “Over the Rainbow” from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.”
Something should be mentioned of the venue, which incomparably augmented the one-evening performance. The Henrico Theatre is a 1938 classic movie theatre with an impressive Art Deco marquee. It gracefully invited patrons into the golden age of dance bands. This movie palace—with its vintage film projectors and cinema reels on display and posters of classic Hollywood premieres (including “The Wizard of Oz”)—prepared listeners for an evening of American popular music as perhaps no other venue could. When the Enroughty orchestra was not playing, historic recordings of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians were heard, quite appropriately, over the movie-house loudspeakers. There was even the sweet smell of buttered popcorn on sale in the lobby for the nostalgic price of just one dollar.
We look forward to future evenings with this Richmond-based dance orchestra, especially hopeful to hear the Royal Virginians perform again in a like setting—perhaps continuing the Lombardo Royal Canadian tradition on a future New Year’s Eve.