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OF THE 1940'S & 50'S






 Xavier Cugat, The King of the Rhumba  Xavier Cugat

The King of the Rhumba

Born Francisco de Asis Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeo on January 1, 1900 in Gerona, Spain.

An outspoken critic of the Spanish aristocracy, Javier's father Juan was given 24 hours to leave Spain under penalty of death when Javier was 4.  The family quickly packed and boarded a ship bound for Mexico.  While en-route to Mexico, the ship docked in the port of Havana and Juan disembarked to look around.  He entered a tavern for conversation only--he did not indulge in alcohol.  While there he made the acquaintance of an executive of La Estrella Biscuit Company of Cuba.  With his knowledge of lighting installation, the executive offered him a job on the spot.  He was offered a salary higher than he had ever earned and Juan Cugat de Bru returned to the ship, gathered his family, and become residents of Havana.

Here's Cugat

While in Havana, Cugat learned to play the violin and became so  proficient at it that by the time he was nine he was employed in his first professional job as part of a three-piece ensemble that played the musical accompaniment for silent movies.  By age 10 he quit school and was educated at home.  The next year, he auditioned for the National Theater Symphonic Orchestra and was awarded the seat of first violin.  One year later the National Theater Symphonic Orchestra accompanied the Metropolitan Opera Company from New York for a one month performance in Havana.  The following year the Opera Company returned with its star and it was then that Cugat met the great Enrico Caruso.

Xavier Cugat Loves To Tango!By the time the month-long run of the show was completed, Caruso and Cugat had grown close and  Caruso told Xavier's father that his son was destined to become a great concert violinist and that he would personally assist in the arrangements for his son's debut at Carnegie Hall.

The family moved to New York to join another son Francis, already living in New York.  However, when the Cugats arrived Caruso was away on tour so Javier began studying with the best violin teacher in New York City, Henry Schradieck.  Javier was very anxious to make his debut at Carnegie Hall and Schradiek did his best to discourage a premature debut at Carnegie Hall since he knew how ruthless the New York music critics were.  During this time, Enrico Caruso returned to New York to prepare for the next opera season but shortly after the season began he took ill.  While recovering in Italy the great tenor died unexpectedly.

Javier Cugat did debut at Carnegie Hall.  Although he felt very good about his performance, the critics felt otherwise.  They stated the performance was fair but the performer was forgettable.  Schradieck suggested Cugat needed to study in Berlin to master the greatest and most difficult works of the master composers for violin so Cugat enrolled at Berlin's renown Conservatory of Music.

Upon completing his studies he returned to New York in 1925 and at the age of 25, he decided it was time for a second concert at Carnegie Hall.  This time the critics praised his tone and technique but Cugat wanted more; he wanted to be referred in the same way as the three greatest violin masters of the time, Heifitz, Kreisler and Elman.  He was so discouraged, Cugat threatened to forsake the violin.

His friends introduced him to Vincent Lopez, owner of the club Casa Lopez and leader of a very popular orchestra. Although Cugat had not specialized in popular music, he was offered the job as first violinist with the Vincent Lopez Orchestra and, along with a generous salary, he accepted.

Unfortunately, the music offered no challenge and after a year Cugat quit.  About that time he met Ignacio Abadal, a wealthy Spaniard who was an art and antiques dealer.  Knowing of Cugats current dissatisfaction with music he proposed an unusual business deal.  He asked Cugat to go to Los Angeles to sell the remaining half of a shipment of priceless art treasures from Spain.  Cugat accepted, departed for Los Angeles, and was very successful selling the art.

Cugat began making many new friends who, upon learning of his past violin concerts, encouraged him to try again; this time at the Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium.  However, only about 200 people attended which affected Cugat's performance and the reviews were bad.  Cugat decided that he had had enough with trying to be a classical concert violinist and he left classical music forever.  Cugat took a job with the Los Angeles Times as the resident caricaturist where he remained for one year.

Besame muchoIf was during this time that Cugat met the beautiful Carmen Castillo, the Mexican stand-in for Dolores Del Rio, at the time one of Hollywood's biggest stars.  Carmen was the guardian to her eight-year-old niece Margot and they both lived with Carmen's mother.  The family was very close to the other Latin Americans in Hollywood and would host lively dinners accompanied by music provided by their many musician friends.  Cugat soon began attending the evening gatherings.

Eventually, Cugat asked Carmen to marry him and the Cugat-Castillo wedding took place one afternoon at City Hall.  While working on a movie that was taking a long time to go into production, Carmen encouraged her husband to form a Latin Dance Orchestra.  Margot was enrolled in the Cansino School of Dancing run by Eduardo Cansino, the Mexican father of future star Rita (Cansino) Hayworth.

After forming his own Latin band, Cugat's band was hired as the relief band at the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles.  The headliner at that time was Gus Arnheim and his orchestra.  Singing with Gus were the Rhythm Boys of which Bing Crosby was part and a trio of girls billed as the Andrew Sisters.  Cugat's Latin rhythms were so wildly accepted that dancers refused to leave the dance floor when the headliner's band was due to return for another set.  Cugat specialized in Rumba, Tango, Conga and Bolero and he hired hired eight couples to dance authentic Tango and then announced the dancers would be happy to teach anyone in the audience who wished to learn.  This teaching method was quite successful in garnering larger crowds fanatical for Tango.  The dancers were called the "Gigolos".  Warner Brothers producer, Brynie Foy hired Cugat and his dancers, for the first-ever produced musical short entitled "Cugat and His Gigolos".

By this time Margot, Carmen's niece, now 15 years of age was dancing Latin numbers in a well-respected club.  Rene Black, an executive with the Waldorf-Astoria, was instantly impressed with Margot and asked her to dance at the world famous hotel.  Understanding very little English she insisted Mr. Black speak with her Uncle Javier.  The next night Mr. Black paid a visit to the Cocoanut Grove and was also instantly impressed with the Javier Cugat Orchestra.  He wanted both family members and their respective acts for the opening of the Starlight Roof.

Bang, BangXavier Cugat's decision to move to New York and work at the Waldorf-Astoria could not have been better.  His band was an instant sensation and after finishing the set, the patrons refused to leave the dance floor.

At the time, Jack Denny's band was the starring band and Jack Denny was so upset at all the attention Cugat was receiving, he gave the Waldorf-Astoria an ultimatum; it was either his band or Cugats!  Denny left the Waldorf-Astoria after they refused to fire Cugat and his orchestra.

It was also during this time that Xavier met a young man by the name of Desi Arnez.  During one of the group's performances, Xavier Cugat caught the act and offered Desi a job with his orchestra. Desi wanted to accept Cugat's offer, however, he told him he had another six months until he finished high school.  After he graduated, Desi was offered a job with Cugat at $25 a week.  Desi was a quick learner and he learned to how manage and handle a big band orchestra.   After about one year with Cugat, Desi and a friend left the orchestra to go to Miami and start their own rumba band.  Desi even convinced Cugat to let him use the Cugat name.  In consideration of a mere $25 per week royalty, the Desi Arnez and his Xavier Cugat Orchestra was born.

Although Xavier Cugat never had a contract with the Waldorf-Astoria, his band played there for 16 years.  At the beginning, his salary was $500 per week which grew to $7,000 per week plus a percentage of the door.  At was during this time that Cugat began recording for RCA Victor and also was heard on the radio from coast to coast.

Appearing in several full-length films as himself, Cugat's successful Hollywood career in the late 20s, 30s, and 40s featuring his orchestra helped popularize Latin American music.


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