Date Posted: 2009-04-15
Xavier Cugat - Liner notes: [CCD-157]
Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat de Bru Y Deulofeo, Xavier Cugat was remembered for his highly commercial approach to pop music. He was considered one of the pioneers of Latin American dance music. He was born on January 1, 1900, near Barcelona, Spain. He was just two years old when his father moved to Havana, Cuba. Two years later he was given for Christmas by a neighbor a small violin. His exceptional talents were soon evident, as he developed into a musical prodigy and became best known for having popularized the Rumba, the tango, the cha-cha, the mambo in the United States during the 1930’s and lead the way in a new music craze among the dancing and the radio listening public. He was called in Goofy movie the “Mambo king”.
On July 6th, 1915 Cugat and his family arrived in New York as immigrant passenger on board the S.S. Havana. He played with bands like “The Gigolos” later he went to work with the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist. His caricatures were later syndicated.
In the 20’s he put together a tango band that has some success in short musical films. In the 30’s Cugat took his band to New York to open the new Waldorf Astoria hotel and became the hotel resident group. Such job served as Cugat’s springboard to fame. His dance band played at the posh hotel for 16 years making $7,000 a week plus a cut of the cover charge taken. In 1934 his band played a three-hour network radio program on Saturday nights.
He shuttled between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next thirty years, alternating hotel and radio appearances with movie engagements such as Gay Madrid (1930), You Were Never Lonelier (1942), Bathing Beauty (1945), Weekend at The Waldorf (1945), Holiday in Mexico (1946), A Date with Judy (1948), Chicago Syndicate (1955), and Desire Diabolique (1959).
In 1940’s he recorded several hits including “El Manciero”, “Perfida”, “Babalu”, “Chiquita Banana”, “Kasmiri Love Song” . Members of Cugat’s band were such greats as Desi Arnaz, Miguelito Valdes, Dinah Shore, Tito Rodriguez, Luis de Campo, Lina Romay, and Yma Sumac.
Cugat benefited from a conflict between the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the radio network at a time when dance band leaders Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller were immensely popular. ASCAP withheld its music from broadcasts, forcing dance bands to play mostly tired public domain songs.
Cugat’s personal life made new many times. Beautiful women were consistently featured in his band. After helping Rita Hayworth launch her career, he appeared in her film You Were Never Lovelier. He wed and divorced four times. His marriage to Castillo ended unhappily in 1944. He then married Lorraine Allen from 1947 to 1952.Cugat’s recordings of the 60’s featured his third wife Abbe Lane to whom he stayed married for 14 years. He then wed the much younger salsa dancer Charro Baeza on August 6, 1966 until their amicable divorce in 1978. The two were the first couple to marry in the newly opened Caesers Palace on the Los Vegas strip.
Cugat remained popular and often played Los Vegas venues during the 1960’s and 1970’s. in 1966 the band leader suffered a stroke and his health was never the same. After his divorce from Charro he moved to Barcelona, where he lived for 18 years. He had been suffering from heart and lung problems until his death on October 27, 1990.
Liner notes by Houcine Harrabi