Xavier Cugat

Born

  • January 1, 1900
  • Gerona, Spain

Died

  • October 27, 1990
  • Barcelona, Spain

Real Name

  • Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeo

Marriages

  • Rita Montaner (c.1918-20)
  • Carmen Castillo (1929-46)
  • Lorraine Allen (1947-?)
  • Abbe Lane (1952-64)
  • Charo Baeza (1966-78)

Theme Song

  • My Shawl

Xavier Cugat

''Rumba King'' Xavier Cugat was the first bandleader to front a successful Latin orchestra in the United States. Affectionately known as ''Cugie,'' he was largely responsible for popularizing Latin music among North American audiences, paving the way for such future stars as Desi Arnaz, Perez Prado, and Tito Puente.

Sources differ widely on Cugat's early life and career. It seems, though, that he was born a few minutes after midnight on January 1, 1900, in the Catalonian region of Spain and moved to Cuba with his family when he was only a few years of age. A child prodigy on the violin, at age 12 he earned a seat as first violin with the orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Havana. The young Cugat also apparently struck up a friendship with famed opera singer Enrico Caruso, who brought him to America near the end of the First World War. In New York Cugat met pianist and fellow Catalonian AgustÝ Borgunyˇ. Together they formed a classical duo. Later Cugat moved to Los Angeles where he married pianist Rita Montaner. They toured Europe before divorcing.

In the early 1920s Cugat decided to abandon classical for popular music. His main interest lay in Latin rhythms, and picking up on the tango craze he formed a short-lived band called the Gigolos. He spent the next few years playing odd engagements and working with such popular orchestras as those of Vincent Lopez and Phil Harris. In the late 1920s he jumped on the sound movie bandwagon and formed a new version of the Gigolos. With this group he finally achieved a modicum of success, opening at the Los Angeles Cocoanut Grove in 1928 and appearing in the 1929 film Mexicana.

Cugat worked in Anson Weeks' orchestra during the early 1930s before forming a new outfit of his own. He continued to lead his band throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, spending a great deal of time at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Cugat also had his own radio program. In the early 1930s he had a big hit with the song ''El Manicero'' (''The Peanut Vendor''), which started a rumba craze across America.

Cugat was a known womanizer. He was married five times, including to two of his vocalists, Abbe Lane and Charo. Other singers who worked for Cugat over the years include Lena Romay, La Chata, Don Reid, Del Campo, and Miguelito Valdes. Dinah Shore recorded a song with the group in 1940, and a young Desi Arnaz got his big break with the band. Actress Rita Hayworth also sang with the orchestra.

Cugat was often depicted in publicity photos holding a chihuahua and a pipe, even though he didn't smoke. He was never the one to miss out on a good business opportunity, however. He cashed in on this image and began selling his own line of pipes. He also started a chihuahua breeding business which featured documentation certifying that the dogs were Cugat dogs. Cugat never met a marketing deal he didn't like. Over the years he hawked a diverse line of products, including cigarette lighters and shirts, and also owned several Los Angeles-area restaurants. In addition Cugat was a talented caricaturist. His work appeared in newspapers, magazines and galleries around the world. During the 1920s he worked as a cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times newspaper while playing music at night.

During the 1950s and 1960s Cugat continued performing and recording, both on the Mercury and Decca labels. He briefly had his own television program in 1957 and also spent time in Europe directing Italian television. Cugat retired from show business in 1971 after suffering a stroke. In 1978 he settled in Barcelona. Xavier Cugat died in 1990 from heart failure.