Cuban-born musician and actor Desi Arnaz is best remembered for his hit song ''Babalu'' and for his role as Ricky Ricardo in the television series I Love Lucy. Born into a wealthy family, Desi Arnaz fled his homeland during a 1933 revolution and settled in Miami, where he cleaned bird cages and worked a variety of odd jobs to help support his family. A talented musician, he made his professional debut as a guitarist for the Siboney Septet in 1936. When later offered the chance to work for Xavier Cugat in New York he accepted, in spite of the resulting pay cut.
Arnaz learned much about the music business while in New York and after six months struck out on his own, returning to Miami with a combo backed by his former boss. Though at first things did not go well he suddenly found himself in the spotlight when he introduced the Conga Line to American audiences. The latin dance became a national phenomenon and gave Arnaz the opportunity he needed to break away from Cugat. Forming a new band he returned to New York, where he was offered a role in the successful 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls. He later appeared in the RKO film version, leading him to relocate to Hollywood. There he met his future wife, Lucille Ball, and the two were married in 1940.
Arnaz went on to make three more films with RKO and one picture, the classic war movie Bataan, with MGM before being inducted into the Army during WWII. After two years of keeping stateside troops entertained he was discharged and returned to music. Forming a new orchestra he focused on lushly-orchestrated Latin songs as well as popular American hits. Not shying away from his roots, however, he also included several highly-charged Afro-Cuban numbers in his repertoire as well. It was during this period that he recorded many of the songs with which he is most associated, including ''Babalu,'' ''Holiday in Havana,'' and ''Cuban Pete.'' Vocalists were Jane Harvey, Amanda Lane, Elsa Miranda, Dulcina, and the Streamliners. Arnaz also served as orchestra leader on Bob Hope's radio show from 1946 to 1947.
In 1949 Arnaz stopped recording and began to concentrate his efforts on developing the hit television series I Love Lucy. First airing on CBS in 1951 it remained at the top of the ratings for its entire six-year run and is today considered the most successful television program in history. Arnaz is credited with many small screen innovations, including the use of three cameras when filming before a live studio audience. The orchestra remained together during the program's lifetime and appeared in several episodes, as well as starring with Arnaz in the 1951 CBS radio series Your Tropical Trip.
While working on I Love Lucy Arnaz and Ball built one of the most successful entertainment companies of the era, Desilu, which produced many top television programs and at one point owned RKO Pictures. Pressures from his business success led Arnaz to drink heavily, though, and by the end of the decade his professional and personal lives were in shambles. His marriage to Lucille Ball broke up in 1960, and he retired from active participation in show business. He eventually moved to Baja California with his second wife, Edith, where he lived the rest of his life, occasionally turning up on television or film. He passed away in 1986, a victim of lung cancer.