Xavier Cugat Biography

Francisco de Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu, 1 January 1900, Gerona, Spain, d. 27 October 1990, Barcelona, Spain. An immensely popular band leader and composer who became known as the ‘King Of The Rumba’ during the 30s and 40s after he introduced some of the most insinuating Spanish and Latin American dance rhythms to the USA. Although details of Cugat’s early life are unclear, it would seem that he moved with his family to Cuba when he was between three and five years old, and began to learn to play the violin. He performed in cafes and concert halls before the family was on the move again, this time to the USA. Cugat studied in Berlin, playing with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and eventually settled in California, drawing caricatures of early movie stars for the Los Angeles Times. He formed Xavier Cugat And His Gigolos to play at the Cocoanut Grove, the Chez Paris in Chicago, and New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. By the time he reached the Waldorf, a venue he was to return to again and again, he had customised his music, removing the raw elements of these exciting imported rhythms. He had a great flair for showmanship, and employed several elegant and talented dancers and singers, one of whom, Rita Cansino, later changed her name to Rita Hayworth.

In 1930, Cugat scored the Ramon Novarro film In Gay Madrid, which included the song ‘Dark Night’ (with Herbert Stothart and Clifford Grey). There were many other numbers, co-composed with a variety of writers, such as ‘The Thrill Of A New Romance’, ‘Yo Te Amo Mucho (And That’s That)’, ‘Rain In Spain’, ‘El Americano’, ‘Cougat’s Nougat’, ‘Night Must Fall’, ‘Illusion’, ‘Nightingale’, ‘One-Two-Three-Kick’, and his appealing theme, ‘My Shawl’. Cugat had a string of record hits from 1935-49, including ‘The Lady In Red’, ‘Night Must Fall’, ‘Perfidia’, ‘Chica, Chica, Boom, Chic’ (vocal: Lina Romay), ‘Babula’ (Miguelito Valdes), ‘Amor’ (Carmen Castillo), ‘Good, Good, Good (That’s You-That’s You)’, and ‘South America, Take It Away’ (Bobby Clark). Two of his best remembered discs are ‘The Breeze And I’ (vocal: Dinah Shore) and ‘Brazil’. In the mid-30s his was one of the bands featured on radio’s famous Let’s Dance three-hour Saturday night dance marathon.

During the 40s and 50s, Cugat appeared, almost always as himself, in films such as You Were Never Lovelier (with Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth), Two Girls And A Sailor (June Allyson and Van Johnson), and Neptune’s Daughter (Esther Williams, Red Skelton and Ricardo Montalban). He married five times, and two of his wives, Abbe Lane and Charo Baeza (Charo) were singers with his band. A stroke in 1971 forced him into semi-retirement, but in 1987, when The ‘New’ Xavier Cugat Orchestra conducted by Ada Cavallo was advertising for business, Cugat appeared in the television documentary Images/Imagenes: Latin Music Special in 1987. He died three years later of heart failure.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.