Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat

Xavier Cugat (1900–1990) was a Spanish-Cuban and American musician and bandleader 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 New York City 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.

In the 1920s, he led a band that played often at the Cocoanut Grove, a club in Los Angeles. Cugat's friend, Charlie Chaplin, visited the club to dance the tango, so Cugat added tangos to the band's performances. Seeing how popular the dance was becoming, Cugat convinced the owner to hire South American dancers to give tango lessons. This, too, became popular, and Cugat made the dancers part of his orchestra.

In 1931, Cugat took his band to New York for the 1931 opening of the Waldorf–Astoria hotel. He replaced Jack Denny as leader of the hotel's resident band. For sixteen years, he led 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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