A History of New Year’s Eve Performance Broadcasts

As we get ready to say goodbye to 2020 from the comfort of our homes (no need to go out, dress up, or freeze in cold NYC weather), let’s take a look back at the nearly century-long history of New Year’s Eve broadcasts and the many musical performance they’ve had.

Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians

Though many think of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve when they think of New Year’s Eve programs, the first nationwide NYE broadcast was with Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians. Though Mr. Lombardo was born in London, Ontario, it was in Cleveland and Chicago that he first made a name for himself. 

In 1929, Lombardo and the Royal Canadians played the first nationwide New Year’s Eve broadcast from the Grill Room of Manhattan’s Roosevelt Hotel. In the 50s, Lombardo moved to broadcasting NYE live on television from the Waldorf-Astoria, where he continued to host the program until his death in 1977.  It was because of his annual performances that Lombardo became known as “Mr. New Year’s Eve” and joked that when he died, he was taking New Year’s Eve with him”

Interestingly, Lombardo is also responsible for Auld Lang Syne becoming the New Years song which was written by Scottish poet Robert Burns. Lombardo’s hometown was settled by Scots, and one of Lombardo’s radio program sponsors was Robert Burns Cigars. The Royal Canadian’s version of Auld Lang Syne is still played in Times Square at the stroke of midnight.

Mr. Lombardo passed away in November 1977. Read his obituary in the Washington Post archives.

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve

Before Rockin’ Eve, Dick Clark hosted American Bandstand. The inspiration for the New Year’s Eve show came when Clark felt that Mr. Lombardo’s show wasn’t of much interest to the younger folks. In fact, in an interview, Clark stated that “Guy was the only choice for the older generation. That’s why we put Rockin’ in the title – to let everybody know this was going to be a different approach.”

Though the program is named “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” Dick Clark didn’t host the program himself until the third year. The band Three Dog Night hosted New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 1973 (NYE ’72). Comedian George Carlin hosted the second year. Clark acted as the Times Square reporter for the first two broadcasts before taking over hosting duties. These first two shows featured performances by Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Helen Reddy, Al Green, and Three Dog Night, (1972-73) and The Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, Linda Ronstadt, and Tower of Power (1973-74) all pre-recorded from the ballroom of the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. 

The first two shows broadcast on NBC, but the show moved to ABC for the 1974-75 edition where it remains today. The 1974 NYE broadcast featured performances by Chicago, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Herbie Hancock and Olivia Newton-John, all pre-recorded at MGM studios in Hollywood. 

In 1977, the production’s fifth year, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve became the most-watched NYE program. This shift in viewership was partially due to Guy Lombardo’s death, and caused CBS to drop the Royal Canadians in 1979 in favor of a new special, Happy New Year, America, which aired through NYE 1995. 

The 1979-80 event featured Erin Moran of Happy Days and John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard as co-hosts. Musical guests from that year included Blondie, Barry Manilow, and the The Village People. 

1990s

The 90s as a whole had pretty great lineups! 93-94 featured Brooks & Dunn and Kiss; 95-96 had Melissa Etheridge, Hootie & the Blowfish, and Salt-N-Pepa; 96-97 had Kiss, Weird Al, The Presidents of the United States of America, and The Tony Rich Project.

The 1996-97 event was also the 25th Rockin’ Eve Broadcast, which Clark celebrated by discussing the unique and difficult problems he had while hosting the show, such as harsh winter weather, not being able to communicate with his director because of the roar of the Times Square crowds, and the year they had to work around a group of nude attendees in the background. 

2000s

To usher in the new millenium, ABC broadcast a special day-long telecast, ABC 2000 Today, which was part of the 2000 Today consortium, in lieu of the regular Rockin’ Eve programming.

Following the 2000 event, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2001 expanded into 10 o’clock hour, with additional segments and music performances. The ‘00-01 performances included Lonestar, Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, and Third Eye Blind. 

For NYE 2001-02, ABC broadcast the two-hour special ABC 2002, which featured performances from Arlo Guthrie, Sting, and U2. The New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast featured pre-recorded concert performances from Aerosmith, Destiny’s Child, and Elton John, as well as studio performances by blink-182, Bush, Busta Rhymes, LFO, and Pink. 

Dick Clark unfortunately suffered a minor stroke in 2004. As a result, Regis Philbin temporarily took over hosting duties for New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2005. The next year, Ryan Seacrest joined as a co-host, and took over Times Square hosting duties.

Mariah Carey’s performance for the 2006 broadcast (NYE ‘05-06) was the first Rockin’ Eve performance to be broadcast live from Times Square. This is also the first year that Fergie co-hosted the Hollywood portion of the event.

In 2008, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, and the Jonas Brothers performed in Times Square. Akon, Natasha Beddingfield, Sean Kingston, OneRepublic, Plain White T’s, Taylor Swift, and will.i.am performed in Hollywood. The next year’s lineup was similar: The Jonas Brothers, Taylor Swift and Lionel Ritchie performed in Times Square, while Fall Out Boy, Natasha Beddingfield, Jesse McCartney, Ne-Yo, the Pussycat Dolls, Solange, and will.i.am performed in Hollywood.

2010s – Present

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2012 (NYE 2011-12) was unfortunately the last NYE with Dick Clark, as he died from a heart attack in April 2012. Since the 2012 event was also the 40th Rockin’ Eve, ABC aired a two-hour retrospective before the primetime broadcast. 

The 2017 event (NYE ‘06)  was the first to cover the New Year’s Eve festivities in New Orleans, which included performances by Panic! At the Disco and Jason Derulo. 

2020-2021 New Years Eve Event

This year’s event will still go on, albeit without the usual crowds. Dick Clark’s Rockin’ Eve 2021 kicks off on ABC at 8pm EST. Lucy Hale and Billy Porter will be acting as correspondents in Times Square, Big Freedia will host in New Orleans, and Ciara will host in LA. Times Square performances will include Cyndi Lauper, Jennifer Lopez, Machine Gun Kelly, and Jimmie Allen. Hollywood performances include Nelly, Miley Cyrus, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, Ella Mai, Lewis Capaldi, Brandy, and Maluma.


Do you have a favorite New Year’s lineup you’ve watched? Have any exciting plans for this year’s NYE? Let us know in the comments below!

Be sure to check out our Concert Archives’ Best of 2020 Awards if you haven’t yet.

Happy New Year Backstage Pass Readers!

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