Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeo January 1st, 1900, in Gerona, Spain.  Xavier Cugat probably had more to do with the integration of Latin music into the repertoire of American Popular music than any other musician.  Renowned Latin bandleaders Machito, Desi Arnaz and Perez Prado were significantly influenced by Cugat.

XAVIER CUGAT AT-A-GLANCE

  • Classical violinist at a young age; first-chair in the Orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Havana at twelve.
  • Emigrated to the U.S. between 1915-1918.
  • Rode out the tango craze with band called "The Gigolos." 
  • Ceased playing, briefly took job at L.A. Times as a caricaturist.
  • Returned to music and eventually formed his own group "The Latin American Band."
  • Appeared in numerous films, and recorded songs for many.
  • Recorded over two dozen albums of Latin-influenced "easy listening" music during his career, employing many musicians of note.
  • Orchestra became house band for the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.  The gig lasted from approximately 1935-1951.
  • Married for a fourth time to classical Guitarist and actress Charo, whom sources agree was anywhere from forty to fifty years his junior.
  • He retired to Spain after a career spanning eight decades, where he died in Barcelona on October 27, 1990.

Xavier Cugat was originally trained to be a classical violinist at a very young age.  His drive for perfection and success was so intense, he became first-chair violinist for the Orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Cuba at age twelve.  It is unclear exactly which year he arrived in the United States.  After a short stint accompanying classical artists, he gave up the violin for the job of bandleader and arranger.  He joined his first band, the Gigolos, in the early 1920s.  The band did very well for themselves, capitalizing on the tango fad that was sweeping the country.

When the tango fad vanished, the lack of work and boredom impelled Cugat to quit playing for awhile.  He left the Gigolos and took up work as a caricaturist for the Los Angeles Times.  Although his cartoons were syndicated by King Features, boredom with his job pushed Cugat back to the world of music in just a short while.

 The Toast of the New York-L.A. Circuit

Cugat's first major big band, "The Latin American Band," enjoyed great success for many years for a number of reasons.  Beside appearing at better and better venues on the West Coast, the band was hired to record musical pieces for movie soundtracks.  "Talkies;" movies with sound; were just beginning to gain popularity.  It is to Cugat's credit that he got his band work in this lucrative and growing new form of musical recording.

His contacts in the movie industry, combined with his fame in the music business, eventually put Cugat and his band in front of the camera.  His movie appearances included Gay Madrid (1930), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Bathing Beauty (1945), Weekend At The Waldorf (1945), Holiday In Mexico (1946), On An Island With You (1948), A Date With Judy (1948), Chicago Syndicate (1955) and Desire Diabolique (1959).

Cugat's band enjoyed yet more success when, about 1935, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City hired them on as house band.  By the 1940s, "Cugie," as he was affectionately known, was the archetypal show-biz success-story, squeezing his movie appearances and recording sessions in-between live performance dates on both coasts.

Girls - Girls - Girls

Throughout his career, where Xavier Cugat was, a beautiful girl was sure to follow.  He was well-known for his infatuation with members of the opposite sex.  His band often featured a lovely young female vocalist; the cover art for his albums also featured sexy young women.  He was linked romatically to Rita Hayworth, with whom he performed in films.  He married four times during his life.  His third wife, blonde bombshell Abbe Lane, fronted for his band throughout the '50s.  His marriage to Spanish actress and guitarist Charo in the 1960s caused a stir because of the extreme difference in their ages (placed by sources as being anywhere from forty to fifty years).  Charo's mountains of flowing blonde hair, shapely body and scanty dress said "bimbo" at first glance.  Yet many did not know that she'd been classically trained in the guitar, and was a world-class player and recording artist in her own right.  Despite her talents, it was her trademark outburst, "cuchi-cuchi," accompanied by sexy wiggles, giggles and gestures, that endeared her to the U.S. public.  She achieved fame on television and in movies, on her own merits.  She remained married to Cugat until his death in 1990.

"I'd rather play "Chiquita Banana" and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve."

Always the showman, Cugat dressed his orchestra in Fire-Engine red jackets, chit-chatted with the audience in-between numbers, and presented a program of dance tunes and a few novelty tunes.  His selection of music was always in vogue; Cugat was early on the bandwagon of all the Latin dance crazes, and the twist, too.  Accused by critics of being "too commercial," it was Cugat's keen ability to immediately respond to musical trends that kept him in the public eye.  Cugat never eclipsed the wild popularity of his 1940 hit recording of "Perfidia," yet he turned out more than two dozen albums during his career.

Sometimes called "King of the Rumba," Cugat had arguably more to do with exposing Americans to Latin music than any of his peers.  Some Latin purists cried blasphemy when Cugat applied Latin rhythms to selections from the Great American Songbook, but Cugat laughed all the way to the bank.  His response when asked about what some considered artistic compromises on his part was pure Cugat:  "I'd rather play "Chiquita Banana" and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve."  Cugat's legacy is one of longevity in an industry where artists' popularity is typically fleeting.

Sources:

http://www.spaceagepop.com/cugat.htm
http://www.icdc.com/~ncassway/cugat/
http://www.mmguide.musicmatch.com/artist/artist.cgi?ARTISTID=336544
http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:2s120r2ac48c~T1
http://www.seagranite.com/charo/

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