Xavier Cugat Biography

Born: January 1, 1900, Girona, Spain

Died: October 27, 1990, Barcelona, Spain

Catalan-Cuban-American bandleader whom many consider to have been very influential in incorporating Latin music into popular music in the United States. Perez Prado followed in Cugat's footsteps.

Cugat was born in Girona, in Catalonia (Spain). He emmigrated with his family to Cuba when he was five, and trained as a classical violinist, playing with the Orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Havana. On 6 July 1915, Cugat and his family arrived in New York. Entering the world of show business, he played with a band called “The Gigolos” during the tango craze. Later, he went to work for the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist, and his caricatures were later nationally syndicated.

In the late 1920s, as sound began to be used in films, he put together another tango band that had some success in early short musical films. By the early 1930s, he began appearing with his group in feature films, and Cugat took his band to New York for the 1931 opening of Waldorf Astoria Hotel and it became the hotel's resident band. One of his trademarks was to hold a small Chihuahua dog while he waved his baton with the other arm. He shuttled between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next thirty years, alternating hotel and radio dates with movie appearances in films such as Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) and Neptune's Daughter (1949).

In 1940, he recorded the song Perfidia with singer Miguelito Valdés which became a big hit. Cugat followed trends closely, making records for the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was in fashion. His first marriage was to Rita Montaner, his second to Carmen Castillo (1929 – 1946), his third to Lorraine Allen (1947 – 28 April 1952), and his fourth to singer Abbe Lane in 1952. He and Lane performed together until their divorce in 1964. He married salsa dancer Charo on 7 August 1966. The two were the first couple to marry in the newly opened Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip. Cugat did not lose sleep over artistic compromises: “I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” Cugat died of heart failure at age 90 in Barcelona in his native Catalonia, Spain.

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