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Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra 1952 Film featurette - Universal Studios
Born Francesc d'Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu
January 1, 1900(1900-01-01)
Girona (Catalonia), Spain
Died October 27, 1990 (aged 90)
Barcelona (Catalonia), Spain
Occupation singer, songwriter, actor, director. screenwriter
Years active 1925 - 1990
Spouse(s) Carmen Castillo (1929-1946)
Lorraine Allen (1947-1952)
Abbe Lane (1952-1963)
Charo (1966-1978)

Xavier Cugat (1 January 1900 – 27 October 1990) was an American bandleader of Catalan origin 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.


Life and career

Cugat was born as Francisco d'Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deleufo in Girona, Catalonia.[1] 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 Spanish guitarist and comic actress Charo (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. [2] 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 novel, 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. He 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 Hotel's Orchestra. He shuttled between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years, alternating hotel and radio dates with movie appearances in You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Bathing Beauty (1944), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945) and Neptune's Daughter (1949), among others.


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.

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 and was buried in his native Girona.

Selected references to Xavier Cugat in popular American culture

  • Cugat is mentioned frequently on I Love Lucy. For example, in the episode titled “Lucy Goes to Scotland”, Lucy gives Ricky an LP, which he looks at, reads “Xavier McCugat?!” and tosses it away. Another example occurred in the episode "The Marriage License" when Lucy says to Ricky "I wouldn't marry you, even if you were Xavier Cugat!"; to which Ricky responds "Xavier Cugat?!" In "Lucy Gets Chummy with the Neighbors", neighbor Ralph Ramsey angrily tells Ricky during an argument that he'll "Get Cugat" for his show instead. The jokes were meant to poke fun at the fact that both Cugat and Ricky Ricardo were Cuban bandleaders.
  • Cugat and Ben & Jerry's are parodied in an episode of The Simpsons when Lisa finds an ice cream flavor called “Xavier Nougat”, to which Homer replies, “No… [I don't want] nothin' made o' dead guys!” In a different episode, “Jazzy and the Pussycats”, Bart declared “Xavier Cugat” as a non sequitur reply to a question while speaking like a jazz musician.
  • Cugat's performance of the song "Yo Te Amo Mucho" appears in The Matador (2005), while Pierce Brosnan is watching TV in the hotel.
  • Cugat is mentioned in Woody Allen's Sleeper (1973), when Diane Keaton, searching for a new superlative for an object of modern art, says, “It's greater than Keane! It's Cugat!”
  • Cugat is mentioned in an episode of All in the Family when the Bunker family is playing a trivia game based on bandleaders' initials. However, Archie mistakenly states Cugat's initials to be “E.C.” When corrected by Mike, Archie exclaims, "Whoever heard of anyone having an X for an initial?"
  • His birthdate, January 1, 1900, was considered so distinctive in Spain that he and his brothers were exempted from future military duty and his father, a political prisoner, was released from jail. (Source: Text accompanying record collection The Great Band Era, published in 1966, including Cugat's title "Quiéreme Mucho".)
  • He is referenced in Desi Arnaz's autobiography as having helped give Desi his start after Desi played guitar for a few years in Cugat's orchestra. [3]


He is referenced in The Ziegfeld Follies (1946). When Keenan Wynn is asked to spell "Plaza," for the letter "Z" he says, "As in Xavier Cugat!"

External links


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