|Born||Francisco de Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu
1 January 1900
Girona, Catalonia, Spain
|Died||27 October 1990
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
|Website||Xavier Cugat official webpage|
Xavier Cugat (English:[pronunciation?]; Catalan: [i'e ku'?at]; 1 January 1900 - 27 October 1990) was a Spanish-American musician and native of Spain who spent his formative years in Havana, Cuba. A trained violinist and arranger, he was a leading figure in the spread of Latin music in United States popular music. In New York, he was the leader of the resident orchestra at the Waldorf-Astoria before and after World War II. He was also a cartoonist and a restaurateur. The personal papers of Xavier Cugat are preserved in the Biblioteca de Catalunya.
Cugat was born as Francisco de Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu (Catalan: Francesc d'Assís Xavier Cugat i Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu) in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. His family immigrated 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, he and his family arrived in New York City as immigrant passengers on board the SS Havana. Cugat appeared in recitals with Enrico Caruso, playing violin solos.
Cugat was married five times. His first marriage was to Rita Montaner (1918-1920); his second was to Carmen Castillo (1929-1944); his third to Lorraine Allen (1947-52); his fourth to singer Abbe Lane (1952-64); and his fifth to Spanish guitarist and comic actress Charo Baeza (1966-78).
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.
In the late 1920s, as sound began to be used in films, Cugat put together another tango band that had some success in early short musical films. And by the early 1930s, he began appearing with his group in feature films. His first notable appearance occurred in 1942, in the Columbia production You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth, Fred Astaire, and Adolphe Menjou. Most of his subsequent movies were made at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, including Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), Holiday in Mexico (1948), A Date with Judy (1948), Luxury Liner (1948), and the Esther Williams musicals Bathing Beauty (1944), This Time for Keeps (1947), On an Island with You (1948), and Neptune's Daughter (1949).
In 1931, Cugat had taken his band to New York for the 1931 opening of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, and he eventually replaced Jack Denny as the leader of the hotel's resident band. For 16 years, Cugat helmed the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel's orchestra ( the Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra), shuttling between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years. One of his trademark gestures was to hold a chihuahua while he waved his baton with the other arm.
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Cugat recorded on Columbia Records (1940s and 1950s, also Columbia's Epic label), RCA Victor (1930s and 1950s), Mercury Records (1951-1952, and the 1960s) and Decca Records (1960s). Dinah Shore made her first recordings as a vocalist with Cugat in 1939 and 1940 (RCA Victor). In 1940, his recording of "Perfidia" 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 No. 17 in the Billboard Top 100. In the 1950s he made several recordings with his then wife, Abbe Lane.
Cugat owned and operated the Mexican restaurant, Casa Cugat, on La Cienega's "Restaurant Row" for a number of years, located at 848 North La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood. The restaurant was frequented by several Hollywood celebrities, and featured two singing guitarists, who would visit each table and play diners' favorite songs upon request. In addition to Mexican cuisine, the restaurant also had an "American menu," which included such dishes as fried shrimp, steaks, seafood and chicken. According to Cugat, "Marlon Brando loves quesadillas, so he usually has two orders. Paul Newman always orders arroz con pollo, chicken and rice. Dinah Shore is mad about chilled gazpacho. Comedian Steve Martin always orders steak picado. George Burns and Milton Berle both love chile verde. Merv Griffin always orders the Cugat special combination plate. Charo is a fan of the filet of sole fundador. James Caan orders tournedos of beef Diablo. When sportscaster Vin Scully comes in you can bet he'll order albondigas soup with meatballs and vegetables, spiced with cilantro." The restaurant had been in operation since the 1940s, and finally closed its doors in 1986.
The restaurant's actual exterior and a fanciful depiction of its interior can be found in scenes in the 1949 film, Neptune's Daughter, where Cugat has a substantial role playing himself. A brief scene revolving around the restaurant can also be seen in the earlier 1943 film, The Heat's On, also starring Cugat as himself.
Xavier Cugat spent his last years in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, living in a suite at Hotel Ritz. Cugat died of heart failure at age 90 in Barcelona and was buried in his native Girona. He was posthumously inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001.