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Xavier Cugat 1900-1990

Country : Girona, Catalonia, Spain
Profession : Band leader, Actor
Date of birth : 1900-01-01
Date of death : 1990-10-27
Cause of Death : Heart failure

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Xavier Cugat, born Francesc d'Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu (1 January 190027 October 1990) was a Spanish-Catalan-Cuban-American bandleader who spent his formative years in Havana, Cuba. A trained violinist and arranger, he was a key personality in the spread of Latin music in United States popular music. He was also a cartoonist and a successful businessman. In New York, his was the resident orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria before and after World War II.

Cugat was born in Girona, in Catalonia, Spain.  His family emigrated to Cuba when Xavier was five. He was trained as a classical violinist and played with the Orchestra of the Teatro Nacional in Havana. On 6 July 1915, Cugat and his family arrived in New York as immigrant passengers on board the S.S. Havana.


Cugat was married four times. His first marriage was to Carmen Castillo (1929–1944); his second to Lorraine Allen (1947-52); his third to singer Abbe Lane (1952-64); and his fourth to Flamenco guitarist Charo (María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza Rasten, 1966-78). His last marriage was the first in Caesars Palace on the Las Vegas Strip.

Entering the world of show business, 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. His older brother, Francis, was an artist of some note, having painted the famous cover art for F. Scott Fitzgerald's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.

Radio and films

In the late 1920s, as sound began to be used in films, 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 for the 1931 opening of Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and he eventually replaced Jack Denny as the leader of the Hotel's resident band. One of his trademarks was to hold a small Chihuahua dog while he waved his baton with the other arm. For 16 years Cugat helmed The Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He shuttled between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years, alternating hotel and radio dates with movie appearances in films such as You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Bathing Beauty (1944), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) and Neptune's Daughter (1949).


In 1940, his recording of "Perfidia" with singer Miguelito Valdés became a big hit. Cugat followed trends closely, making records for the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was in fashion. Several of the songs he recorded, including "Perfidia", were used in the Wong Kar-wai films Days of Being Wild and 2046.

In 1943 "Brazil" was a big hit, reaching #17 in the Billboard Top 100. The basic riff of the song bares a strong resemblance to that of "Viva Las Vegas" (a 1964 Elvis Presley song, written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman).

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 aged 90 in Barcelona. He is buried in Girona.

Neptune's Daughter (9-Jun-1949) Himself
A Date with Judy (21-Jun-1948) Himself
On an Island with You (3-May-1948)
Luxury Liner (1948) Himself
This Time for Keeps (17-Oct-1947) Himself
Holiday in Mexico (15-Aug-1946) Himself
Weekend at the Waldorf (5-Oct-1945) Himself
Bathing Beauty (27-Jun-1944) Himself
Two Girls and a Sailor (27-Apr-1944) Himself
The Heat's On (25-Nov-1943) Himself
Stage Door Canteen (24-Jun-1943) Himself
You Were Never Lovelier (5-Oct-1942) Himself
Go West Young Man (13-Nov-1936)

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