Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


CUGAT, Xavier

(b 1 Jan. 1900, Gerona, Spain; d 27 Oct. '90, Spain) Violinist, bandleader, composer. He moved to Cuba as a child, studied violin and claimed to have played in the Havana Symphony Orchestra. To USA; worked at LA Times (also a talented caricaturist); mid-'20s organized a tango orchestra in the mid-1920s and made a couple of musical shorts with them early in the sound era. Hew was active in films from In Gay Madrid '30 with Ramón Navarro through The Phynx '69 with Patti Andrews, and probably had more footage in films than any other bandleader, the bulk of them '40s MGM musicals. One of three bands on National Biscuit Company's radio show Let's Dance '34-5 (see Benny Goodman's entry), a popularizer of Latin music's costumes, dancers, accents, the rhythms often simplified for American dancers. His own best-known composition was his theme 'My Shawl' (he also recorded it with Frank Sinatra); Pop Memories lists hits '35-49 including top six 'The Lady In Red' '35, 'Perfidia' '41, 'Brazil' '43, 'Good, Good, Good (That's You, That's You)' '45, 'South America, Take It Away' '46 (vocal by Buddy Clark). He also recorded with Bing Crosby. Residencies at the Waldorf Astoria included Desi Arnaz for a few months; said to have inspired Cole Porter to write 'Begin The Beguine' '35 (a no. 13 Cugat hit that year) and Cab Calloway to hire Mario Bauzá: if true, his popularizing indirectly had a significant impact. The Cuban 'Babalú' (written by Margarita Lecuona, niece of Ernesto Lecuona) was a Cugat hit '41 sung by Miguelito Valdés, whose charismatic presence in the band '40-2 lent a more authentic Afro-Cuban flavour; the song was later associated with Arnaz. The band's playing was catchy and appealing, use of a marimba lending a distinctive touch. He was also famous for marrying glamorous women; three of his five wives featured in the band: singer Carmen Castillo, singer Abbe Lane (photographed bathing in coffee when coffee prices were high), guitarist-singer Charo. He retired '70, returned to Spain '80; after heart attacks, a stroke and hospitalization for lung problems '86, he formed a new 16-piece band to open at a resort at Salou in time for his 87th birthday, still surrounded by lovely girls; hospitalized again '88. Divided views on Cugat are epitomized by two authorities: 'Cugat was never looked upon by the majority of the Latin record-buying public as a great thing,' said Al Santiago. 'In fact they put him down. There are many musicians that appreciate what Cugat did, because of his big band arrangements or particular sidemen (including Machito, Tito Rodríguez, Charlie Palmieri, etc) ... we recognized the quality of the Cugat band, but not the authenticity of its Latin rhythms. He was corny and a dictator ... pseudo-Latin' (quote from Salsiology '92 by Vernon W. Boggs); 'There are charges against him for deforming, corrupting and exploiting music,' wrote Dr Cristóbal Díaz Ayala in the liner notes to Bim Bam Bum 1935--1940 '92, 'but without Cugat there wouldn't have been much Latin music world-wide, to talk about.' Recordings from the band's so-called Golden Era '35-45 were collected on Xavier Cugat And His Orchestra 1940--42 '91 with vocalists Miguelito Valdés, Machito and Tito Rodríguez, Rumba Rumbero 1937-43 '92 with singers Alfredo Valdés, Miguelito Valdés and Del Campo, both on Tumbao; Bim Bam Bum 1935-1940 '92 on Harlequin, featuring vocalists Alfredo Valdés, Machito, Ñico López, Catalino Rolón, Don Reid, Dinah Shore, others. Mambo! Vols.1 And 2 '94 on Blue Moon compile '50-52 recordings.