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Xavier Cugat, born Francisco d'Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deleufo(1 January 1900 – 27 October 1990) was an Americanmarker bandleader of Spanishmarker origin who spent his formative years in Havana, Cubamarker. 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-Astoriamarker before and after World War II.

Life and career

Cugat was born in Gironamarker, Spainmarker. 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 Havanamarker. On 6 July 1915, Cugat and his family arrived in New Yorkmarker 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 Palacemarker on the Las Vegas Stripmarker.

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 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.

Cugat took his band to New York for the 1931 opening of Waldorf Astoria Hotelmarker, 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 bears 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 Barcelonamarker. He is buried in Girona.

In popular culture

  • Xavier Cugat is mentioned in A Goofy Movie where Goofy calls him the “Mambo King”.
  • 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 is mentioned in the song "Joe le taxi", sung by Vanessa Paradis, probably as an artist that Joe, the taxi driver, likes to listen to.
  • Cugat is mentioned in third scene of A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • Cugat is mentioned in an episode of the TV series M*A*S*H. Hawkeye asserts that “The only Latin I know is Xavier Cugat.”
  • Cugat is mentioned twice in the third season Frasier episode “Moon Dance”.
  • 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.
  • In the ZBS Foundation's series of radio dramas Ruby the Galactic Gumshoe, Cugat is the patron saint of the Moles of Zeeboos, a tango-loving race of sentient humanoid moles. One month of the Mole calendar is named for Cugat.
  • In Tom Griffin's 1983 play The Boys Next Door, Arnold continually references Cugat saying, “He thinks he's Xavier Cugat or somebody.” [See page 26, Dramatists Play Service, Inc.]
  • 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".)
  • In an early issue of Mad, he is referred to as "Xubirant Catgut", conducting the "How're Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Farm (After They've Seen Pareemarker?)" Mambo.
  • 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.
  • He is referenced in Piranha Club (formerly Ernie) when Ethel Munyon mentions that a homeless man (who is actually Sid Fernwilter) "has the same Xavier Cugat moustache" as her boyfriend, Sid Fernwilter, playing on the long-standing joke that she is slightly delusional.
  • Cugat is identified as the producer of a supposed documentary about masturbation in the sketch 'The Horn' from Derek and Clive Ad Nauseam.
  • In the 1991 Warren Beatty film Bugsy, Xavier Cugat is listed on the billboard as the entertainer for the opening night of The Flamingomarker hotel/casino.


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