Xavier Cugat

Picture of Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat  was raised in Cuba and was a leading figure in the spread of Latin music.  In New York City he was the leader of the resident orchestra at the Waldorf–Astoria before and after World War II.

In the 1920s, he led a band that played often at the Cocoanut Grove, a club in Los Angeles. When Charlie Chaplin, Xavier's friend, visited the club to dance the tango, Cugat decided to add tangos to the band's performances. The tangos really took off and seeing how popular the dance was becoming, Cugat convinced the owner to hire dancers to give tango lessons. In 1928 he turned his music show into the film "Xavier Cugat and His Gigolos."

In 1931, Cugat took his band to New York to become the resident band for the Waldorf–Astoria hotel. For sixteen years, he led the Waldorf–Astoria Orchestra, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years. The reason for the constant travel to California was that he worked for the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist. His caricatures were syndicated to newspapers throughout the country.

Listen to Xavier Cugat's version of "Begin the Beguine"

One of his performance trademarks was to hold a chihuahua while he waved his baton with the other arm, but Cugat's career wasn't all about gimmicks, in 1943 he scored a hit with his song "Brazil" and Xavier played a leading role in the spread of Latin music within the big band community.  Many big names came through Cugat's band including Dinah Shore, Desi Arnaz, Yma Sumac and Abbe Lane.

Not music related by noteworthy, Xavier Cugat also had some high profile relationships including marriages to Abbe Lane and Charo.

Listen to Xavier Cugat on Swing City Radio.

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