Skip to main content
Select Source:

Cugat, Xavier

Xavier Cugat

Bandleader, violinist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Best-known for having popularized the rumba in the United States during the 1930s, Xavier Cugats Latin-influenced band lead the way in a new music craze among the dancing and radio-listening public. A dramatic showman who often wore huge South American hats on stage and who led his band with the wave of a violin bow, Cugat performed in the ritziest of clubs, on the radio, and in the movies. Having made his professional start as a child prodigy playing classical violin, Cugat was never apologetic about his switch to popular music. He was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, I play music make an atmosphere that people enjoy. It makes them happy. They smile. They dance. Feel goodwho be sorry for that? Cugats several marriages, extramarital affairs, and divorces made headlines, but these events did not cause him to repine. He credited his irrepressible interest in women to a Latin temperament and once said hed marry each of his four wives over again.

Born on January 1, 1900 near Barcelona, Spain and christened Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Brue y Deulofeo, Cugat was two years old when his father moved the family to Havana, Cuba. Two years later, a neighbor and violin maker gave the boy a quarter-sized violin as a Christmas present. Cugats exceptional talents were soon evident, as he developed into a musical prodigy. He played professionally when he was just nine years old, and at age twelve he became first violinist for the Teatro Nacional Symphonic Orchestra.

Tenor Enrico Caruso met Cugat in Havana when he was performing there with the Metropolitan Opera Company, and he enlisted the boy as his accompanist for an American tour. The subsequent events of Cugats teen years are somewhat obscure. He is known to have played the violin on a WDY broadcast in 1917, which made him one of the first violinists to perform on radio, and some sources list Cugat as having moved to the United States with his parents in 1915. But the bandleader once told the Los Angeles Times a far different story, one where he began by working 14 hours a day for a room, meals, and no pay. [Caruso died] shortly after I got to New York and there I was, no friends and not a word of English. And not much money, he said. In any case, Cugat was disappointed in his musical career. Although he played Carnegie Hall twice, toured the United States and Europe with a symphony orchestra, and became a soloist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the moneyand critical responsewas not satisfactory to Cugat.

He then gave up playing the violin for a job with the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist. Caruso had taught

For the Record

Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat de Bru y Deulofeo, January 1, 1900, Barcelona, Spain; died of arteriosclerosis, October 27, 1990, in Barcelona; son of Juan and Mingall (de Bru) Cugat; married Carmen Castillo, October 17, 1929 (divorced 1944); married Lorraine Allen, 1947 (divorced 1952); married Abbe Lane, 1952 (divorced 1966); married Charro Baeza 1966 (divorced 1978).

Began studying the violin at age four; began playing with a Havana symphony at six; was recruited to play for Enrico Caruso and toured with the tenor for five years; worded as a caricature artist for the Los Angeles Times 1924-25; formed his own Latin band in 1929; established the Cugat Room at New York Citys Waldorf-Astoria hotel, 19302-402; appeared in several Hollywood musicals; often played Las Vegas venues during the 1960s and 1970s; retired at age 78, following an illness; subsequently formed a new band in Spain.

Cugat how to draw caricatures and the young man hoped to use this skill to improve his prospects. Cugat had considerable talents as an artist but soon grew tired of the situation. Quoted in a Los Angeles Times obituary, Cugat explained, When they tell you to be funny by 10:30 tomorrow morning I cant do itI finally quit, and get these six guys to play commercial music with me. Also joining Cugat on the bandstand was his wife-to-be Carmen Castillo as lead singer. The year was 1928 and Latin music was not yet popular. However, the band would land a gig playing during intermissions at the famed Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. At the time, a Gus Arnheim band with singer Bing Crosby was the main act. While in Los Angeles, Cugat also played the violin with two performers on a daily broadcast on KFWB radio.

The job that served as Cugats springboard to fame was at the new Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. The bandleader made a modest start there in 1933, but was soon ensconced in the hotels Cugat Room. His dance band played at the posh hotel for 16 years and became the Waldorf-Astorias highest-paid bandleader, making $7,000 a week plus a cut of the cover charge take. In 1934, Cugats band played a three-hour network radio program on Saturday nights.

During a time when dance band leaders Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller were immensely popular, Cugat benefited from a conflict between the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the radio networks. ASCAP withheld its music from broadcasts, forcing dance bands to play mostly tired public-domain songs. Cugat, however, had some 500 non-ASCAP Latin tunes at his disposal and had soon attracted a national audience. He became known as the Rumba King. Some of the performers that Cugat in turn helped to popularize were Desi Arnaz, Dinah Shore, Lina Romay, and Miguelito Valdes. He wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, including Chiquita Banana, Rumba Rhapsody, Kasmiri Love Song, Rain in Spain, Babalu, My Shawl, Rendezvous in Rio, Walter Winchell Rumba, Is It Taboo, and Ill Never Love Again.

Cugat made the leap to the silver screen in 1942, appearing in You Were Never Lovelier, which starred Rita Hayworth. Cugat had met the actress in California many years before, when she was a dancer known as Margarita Cansino. With his band, Cugat appeared in many more filmsoften as himself. He was repeatedly seen on screen with the swimming actress Esther Williams; among their motion pictures together were Neptunes Daughter, Bathing Beauty, This Time for Keeps, and On an lsland With You. Cugats caricatures were also featured in some of his films and on a curtain of stars in Graumans Chinese Theater in Hollywood. These events followed an earlier interest in movie making on the part of Cugat, who had previously made films including an ill-fated production during the early sound era. In 1928, he had spent $35, 000 to produce a Spanish-language film, only to discover that there were as yet no sound projectors in Latin America.

Cugats personal life made news many times, as he wed and divorced four times. His marriage to Castillo ended unhappily in 1944. The bandleader was married to Lorraine Allen from 1947 to 1952, whenwith the help of private detectivesshe caught him in a compromising position in a hotel room with the bands lead singer, Abbe Lane. Cugat wed Lane that same year, and stayed married some 14 years, until he found her with another man. In 1966 he married the much younger singer-guitarist Charro Baeza, who is better known by her first name alone. This marriage ended in 1978 and was said to be the only amicable divorce. Cugats reflections on his love life were recalled in the Los Angeles Times: I like womenall women. Also, there is my temperament. I am Latin. I excite. For me, this is life.

Although the Latin music craze that had swelled in the 1930s and 1940s died down, Cugat remained extremely popular. His band was often booked in Las Vegas and he performed until 1969, when Cugat suffered a stroke and became partially paralyzed. The bandleader recovered from the stroke but his health was never the same. After his divorce from Charro, Cugat moved to Barcelona, where he lived for 18 yearsuntil his death in 1990. He had been suffering from heart and lung problems and was in intensive care at the Quiron Clinic when he died.

Selected discography

Xavier Cugat [CBS], CBS, 1949.

Xavier Cugat [Mercury], CBS, 1952.

Quiet Music, Volume 6, Columbia, 1952.

Merengue, Sony Discos, 1986.

Adios Muchachos, Pro Arte, 1992.

La Ultima Noche, Triloka, 1992.

Me Gusta La Conga, Saludos Amigos, 1993.

El Negro Zumbon, Saludos Amigos, 1993.

Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra, Saludos Amigos, 1994.

Mambo No. 4, Columbia, 1995.

Golden Classics, Collectables, 1995.

Cugats Favorite Rumbas: Leyendas/Legends, Sony Internati, 1995.

Say Si Si, Pair, 1995.

Latinissimo, Madacy, 1995.

Unheard Transcriptions & Air Shots, Harlequin, 1995.

Latin Dance Time with Xavier Cugat & His Orchestra, Fat Boy, 1996.

South America, Take It Away: 24 Latin Hits, ASV/Living Era, 1997.

Cugie A-Go-Go, Varese, 1997.

Cuban Mambo, International, 1997.

Cuban Love Song, Harlequin, 1997.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Authors, Volume 132, Gale, 1991.

Newsmakers, Gale, 1991.

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1990, p. 1.

New York Times, October 28, 1990, p. 38.

Online

www.allmusic.com, All-Music Guide, 1998.

Paula Pyzik Scott

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cugat, Xavier." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cugat, Xavier." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cugat-xavier

"Cugat, Xavier." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cugat-xavier

Cugat, Xavier: 1900-1990: Musician, Bandleader

Xavier Cugat: 1900-1990: Musician, bandleader





Xavier Cugat, best known for his "percolating dance numbers [that] swept the country like tropical fever during the 1930s and '40s," according to Time magazine, played and conducted in some of America's most famous nightspots, including New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and Los Angeles's Coconut Grove. A classically trained violinist who conducted with his bow, he was known in his lifetime as the Rumba King. He is credited with pushing Latino music and dance into popularity in America during the first half of the 20th Century.


Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat de Bru Mingall Deulofeo in Gerona, Spain to Juan Cugat de Bru, an inventor and handyman, and Avila Mingall, a seam-stress, Cugat was one of four brothers. Not much is known about Cugat's early life in Spain, but Cugat's family moved to Cuba when he was very young. It was after the move to Cuba that Cugat started violin lessons. He soon discovered not only that he enjoyed these lessons, but showed a great aptitude for them. When he was a teenager he even traveled to Berlin, Germany where he studied with Carl Flesch, Willy Hess, and Franz Kneisel, according to The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. Returning home in the mid-1910s, Cugat had a stint playing with the Havana Symphony before Cugat and his family moved to New York City in 1912 and became American citizens in 1915. At that time he began touring America and eventually the world with musical troops, including Enrico Caruso's group which featured him as a solo violinist. Caruso, also taught CugT how to draw cartoons and caricatures, and the two drew to while away the hours of travel. Cugat was famous later in life for his caricatures.


In December of 1921 Cugat made his broadcast debut on WDY in Camden, New Jersey. According to The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives some historians considered this to be the first solo performance aired on the radio. Cugat continued to play music with various groups until the late 1920s when he received a rather mediocre review for his performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. There was little business for classical musicians at the time and he was forced for a while to put aside his music and instead worked for the Los Angeles Times for over a year doing cartoons and caricatures.


After a short hiatus Cugat began to miss his music and started putting together a six-piece band to play Latin dance music, including rumbas and tangos. When asked if he was upset about having to give up his classical music, Cugat said that playing dance music made people happy and he couldn't be upset about that. The group was hired at Los Angeles's Coconut Grove in 1928 as the relief band and began making appearances in films. Cugat's first appearance on screen was in the movie Cugat and His Gigolos, in 1928. At this time the popularity of Latin dance music, particularly Cuban, was on the rise. Realizing the commercial potential for his small band, Cugat moved them to New York City. Cugat's band helped open the new Starlight Roof club at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1933. Cugat's band played there for 16 years and was the highest paid band to play at the time, even getting a cut of the cover charge. At this same time the band began playing on WEAF Radio. It is thought that it was these radio shows that led Cugat and his band to the national popularity it eventually attained, especially when he was signed to The Caramel Caravan, a national radio program.

At a Glance . . .


Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat de Bru Mingall Deulofeo January 1, 1900 in Gerona, Spain; died October 27, 1990 in Barcelona, Spain of arteriosclerosis; married Rita Montaner (divorced); married Carmen Castillo, 1929 (divorced); married Lorraine Allen, 1947 (divorced); married Abbe Lane, 1952 (divorced); married Charo Baeza, 1964 (divorced).


Career: Actor/Musician. Films: Go West Young Man, 1936; Let's Go Latin, 1937; You Were Never Lovelier, 1942; The Heat's On, 1943; Two Girls and a Sailor, 1944; Week-End at the Waldorf, 1945; No Leave, No Love, 1946; This Time for Keeps, 1947; On an Island with You, 1948; Neptune's Daughter, 1949; Moments in Music, 1950; Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra, 1952; Chicago Syndicate, 1955; The $64,000 Challenge, 1956; Susana y yo, 1957; Das Feuerschiff, 1962; The Monitors, 1969; Elvis: That's the Way It Is, 1970; Nunca en horas de clase, 1978; Routes of Rhythm, 1984; Una Rosa al viento, 1984. Film composer: In Gay Madrid, 1930; White Zombie, 1932; The Man From Monterey, 1933; The Americano, 1955; Donatella, 1956; Tempo di villeggiatura, 1956; Das Feuerschiff, 1962; Tiger by the Tail, 1968. Albums include: Tropical Bouquets, 1949; Relaxing with Cugat, (Quiet Music, Vol. 6), 1952; The King Plays Some Aces, 1958; Viva Cugat!, 1961; Cugi's Cocktails, 1963; Olé; Xavier Cugat Dance Parade; Anyone Can Cha Cha; Here's Cugat; Cugat's Favorites; Mambo!; Feeling Good; Dance Party; Bang Bang; Xavier Cugat Today; Mambo Mucho Mambo.


Awards: Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Cugat and the Gigolos were featured in more films, beginning in 1942. The first was the Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire classic, You Were Never Lovelier. Cugat's appearance in the movies made him a household name, including such old favorites as Stage Door Canteen, (1943,) Bathing Beauty, (1944,) This Time for Keeps, (1947,) Neptune's Daughter, (1949). Eventually Cugat was given a few speaking parts, most times playing himself. The band brought a fun, sophisticated Latin feel to movies during Hollywood's most elegant and glamorous era. He also began recording and sold many albums. By the time he died, Cugat had made dozens of recordings of popular Latin dance music.

His personal life was equally famous. He was married five times to Latin beauties, including Carmen Castillo, Abbe Lane, and the famous singer Charo Baeza. His affairs and fights often hit the papers, which he chalked up to his fiery Latin temper. When asked about his marriages, according to the Washington Post Cugat said, "If I had it to do all over, I'd marry the same ones. We always divorced for our careers. You cannot play the violin in Philadelphia when your wife is in Rome making a movie with Marcello Mastroianni."

In 1970 Cugat was forced, for health reasons, to give up his band and go into retirement. In 1987, however, he rallied himself and put together another band. He told People, "I can't wait to get back in the swing." He was happiest while he was entertaining, and he did so from 1987 until he died of arteriosclerosis on October 27, 1990. Cugat brought Cuban music to America, along with a liveliness and vitality that brightened many lives. Quoted at the Vinyl Safari website, Perez Prado said of Cugat in 1951, "All Latin-American musicians owe a great debt to Xavier Cugat. Cugat deserves appreciation from all fans of Latin music." Having accomplished so much in his life, it is doubtful that he will ever be forgotten.


Sources

Books


Contemporary Musicians, Volume 23, Gale Group, 1999.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale Research, 1996.

Newsmakers 1991, Gale Research, 1991.

The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Volume 2: 1986-1990, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.

Periodicals


People, Febraury 9, 1987, p. 57

Time, November 5, 1990, p. 99.

Washington Post, October 28, 1990.


On-line


All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com

Internet Movie Database, www.imdb.com

Vinyl Safari www.wildssene.com/music/latin_xc.html

Justin Time Records www.justin-time.com/artists/xaviercugat/

Catherine Victoria Donaldson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Cugat, Xavier: 1900-1990: Musician, Bandleader." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cugat, Xavier: 1900-1990: Musician, Bandleader." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cugat-xavier-1900-1990-musician-bandleader

"Cugat, Xavier: 1900-1990: Musician, Bandleader." Contemporary Hispanic Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/cugat-xavier-1900-1990-musician-bandleader

Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat (1900-1990), a classically trained violinist who conducted with his bow, was known in his lifetime as the Rumba King. He is credited with pushing Latino music and dance into popularity in America during the first half of the 20th century.

Best-known for having popularized the rumba in the United States during the 1930s, Xavier Cugat's Latin-influenced band lead the way in a new music craze among the dancing and radio-listening public. A dramatic showman who often wore huge South American hats on stage and who led his band with the wave of a violin bow, Cugat performed in the ritziest of clubs, on the radio, and in the movies. Having made his professional start as a child prodigy playing classical violin, Cugat was never apologetic about his switch to popular music. He was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, "I play music … make an atmosphere that people enjoy. It makes them happy. They smile. They dance. Feel good—who be sorry for that?" Cugat's several marriages, extramarital affairs, and divorces made headlines, but these events did not cause him to repine. He credited his irrepressible interest in women to a Latin temperament and once said he'd marry each of his four wives over again.

Born on January 1, 1900, near Barcelona, Spain, and christened Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Brue y Deulofeo, Cugat was two years old when his father moved the family to Havana, Cuba. Two years later, a neighbor and violinmaker gave the boy a quarter-sized violin as a Christmas present. Cugat's exceptional talents were soon evident, as he developed into a musical prodigy. He played professionally when he was just nine years old, and at age twelve he became first violinist for the Teatro Nacional Symphonic Orchestra.

Tenor Enrico Caruso met Cugat in Havana when he was performing there with the Metropolitan Opera Company, and he enlisted the boy as his accompanist for an American tour. The subsequent events of Cugat's teen years are somewhat obscure. He is known to have played the violin on a WDY broadcast in 1917, which made him one of the first violinists to perform on radio, and some sources list Cugat as having moved to the United States with his parents in 1915. But the bandleader once told the Los Angeles Times a far different story, one where he began by working 14 hours a day for a room, meals, and no pay. "[Caruso died] shortly after I got to New York … and there I was, no friends and not a word of English. And not much money," he said. In any case, Cugat was disappointed in his musical career. Although he played Carnegie Hall twice, toured the United States and Europe with a symphony orchestra, and became a soloist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the money—and critical response—was not satisfactory to Cugat.

He then gave up playing the violin for a job with the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist. Caruso had taught Cugat how to draw caricatures and the young man hoped to use this skill to improve his prospects. Cugat had considerable talents as an artist but soon grew tired of the situation. Quoted in a Los Angeles Times obituary, Cugat explained, "When they tell you to be funny by 10:30 tomorrow morning … I can't do it—I finally quit, and get these six guys to play commercial music with me." Also joining Cugat on the bandstand was his wife-to-be Carmen Castillo as lead singer. The year was 1928 and Latin music was not yet popular. However, the band would land a gig playing during intermissions at the famed Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. At the time, a Gus Arnheim band with singer Bing Crosby was the main act. While in Los Angeles, Cugat also played the violin with two performers on a daily broadcast on KFWB radio.

Fame at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel

The job that served as Cugat's springboard to fame was at the new Starlight Roof at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City. The bandleader made a modest start there in 1933 but was soon ensconced in the hotel's "Cugat Room." His dance band played at the posh hotel for 16 years and Cugat became the Waldorf-Astoria's highest-paid bandleader, making $7,000 a week plus a cut of the cover charge take. In 1934 Cugat's band played a three-hour network radio program on Saturday nights.

During a time when dance band leaders Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller were immensely popular, Cugat benefited from a conflict between the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the radio networks. ASCAP withheld its music from broadcasts, forcing dance bands to play mostly tired public-domain songs. Cugat, however, had some 500 non-ASCAP Latin tunes at his disposal and had soon attracted a national audience. He became known as the "Rumba King." Some of the performers that Cugat in turn helped to popularize were Desi Arnaz, Dinah Shore, Lina Romay, and Miguelito Valdes. He wrote and recorded hundreds of songs, including "Chiquita Banana," "Rumba Rhapsody," "Kasmiri Love Song," "Rain in Spain," "Babalu," "My Shawl," "Rendezvous in Rio," "Walter Winchell Rumba," "Is It Taboo," and "I'll Never Love Again."

Cugat made the leap to the silver screen in 1942, appearing in You Were Never Lovelier, which starred Rita Hayworth. Cugat had met the actress in California many years before, when she was a dancer known as Margarita Cansino. With his band, Cugat appeared in many more films—often as himself. He was repeatedly seen on screen with the swimming actress Esther Williams; among their motion pictures together were Neptune's Daughter, Bathing Beauty, This Time for Keeps, and On an Island With You. Cugat's caricatures were also featured in some of his films and on a "curtain of stars" in Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. These events followed an earlier interest in movie making on the part of Cugat, who had previously made films including an ill-fated production during the early sound era. In 1928 he had spent $35,000 to produce a Spanish-language film, only to discover that there were as yet no sound projectors in Latin America.

Cugat's personal life made news many times, as he wed and divorced four times. His marriage to Castillo ended unhappily in 1944. The bandleader was married to Lorraine Allen from 1947 to 1952, when—with the help of private detectives—she caught him in a compromising position in a hotel room with the band's lead singer, Abbe Lane. Cugat wed Lane that same year and stayed married some 14 years, until he found her with another man. In 1966 he married the much younger singer-guitarist Charro Baeza, who is better known by her first name alone. This marriage ended in 1978 and was said to be the only amicable divorce. Cugat's reflections on his love life were recalled in the Los Angeles Times: "I like women—all women… . Also, there is my temperament. I am Latin. I excite. For me, this is life."

Although the Latin music craze that had swelled in the 1930s and 1940s died down, Cugat remained extremely popular. His band was often booked in Las Vegas and he performed until 1969, when Cugat suffered a stroke and became partially paralyzed. The bandleader recovered from the stroke but his health was never the same. After his divorce from Charro, Cugat moved to Barcelona, where he lived for 18 years—until his death in 1990. He had been suffering from heart and lung problems and was in intensive care at the Quiron Clinic when he died.

Books

Contemporary Authors, Gale, 1991.

Newsmakers, Gale, 1991.

Periodicals

Los Angeles Times, October 28, 1990.

New York Times, October 28, 1990.

Online

All-Music Guide, www.allmusic.com (February 2003). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Xavier Cugat." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Xavier Cugat." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xavier-cugat

"Xavier Cugat." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved October 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/xavier-cugat