XAVIER CUGAT Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Xavier Cugat (1 January 1900 - 27 October 1990) was a Catalan-Cuban bandleader who many consider to have had more to do with the infusion of Latin music into United States popular music than any other musician. Desi Arnaz and Perez Prado followed in Cugat’s footsteps.


Cugat was born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeo in Girona, Spain. With his family, he immigrated to Cuba when he was five. He trained as a classical violinist and played with the Orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Havana.


Sometime between 1915 and 1918, Cugat moved to New York, where 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 (Cugat’s caricatures were later nationally syndicated).


In the late 1920s, as sound began to be used in movies, 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.


Cugat took his band to New York to open the new Waldorf Astoria Hotel and it became the hotel’s resident group.


He shuttled between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next thirty years, alternating hotel and radio dates with movie appearances. In 1940, he recorded the song Perfidia with singer Miguelito Valdes 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 were in fashion. He married salsa dancer Charro in 1966.


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, Catalonia, Spain.