Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The fun music of ''Rumba King" Xavier Cugat

We've had this CD for years, and every once in a while I pull it out an play it. I played it for dinner on new year's eve, and gave it another spin last night:

Rumbas! Tangos! Congas! (24 Songs)

This particular album has three songs on it that are sung by Dinah Shore:

track 01: The Breeze and I (can be heard on the YouTube soundtrack below)

track 11: La Cumparsita

track 18: Quierme Mucho (Yours)

It made me curious about his career and the people he worked with, so I did a Google search. Here are some of the things I discovered.

I got the cover photo of my CD from, where you can buy used copies for $1.98. One might think his music has faded away, but it hasn't. There are many other albums of his work that are selling quite nicely.

Xavier Cugat was Born January 1st, 1900, in Catalonia, Spain. He died in 1990 from heart failure. But in those 90 years, he had a very interesting life.

This Unofficial Xavier Cugat website gives a short summary of his life and work:
Xavier Cugat, the king of the Rhumba, was born in Gerona, Spain, on January 1 1900. At a young age, Xavier Cugat, became fascinated by the towns violin-maker. According to legend, the violin-maker was so fed up with the young boy's questions, that, on his saint's day, he gave him a violin. Soon, thereafter, his family emigrated to Cuba, where young Xavier, became entranced with the intriguing rhythms and melodies of the tropics.

By the age of twelve, the young Mr. Cugat, held the position of first violinist in Havana. At the age of fifteen, Xavier, left Cuba for the United States and immediately found work touring with Enrico Caruso. a perfectionist, Xavier Cugat, vowed that if he were not the world's greatest violinist by a certain date, he would quit. Although he was well received by musical audiences the world over, he was not satisfied with his progress, and quit.

Cugat then went to work for the Los Angeles Times as a caricaturist. The deadlines were to demanding and eventually Cugat went on to form his first band, Cugat and the Gigolos. He captivated audiences and dancers with their then unusual music, later to be known as, the Rhumba. Cugat then set up shop in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and became the Hotel's resident group. "Cugie" was a notorious womanizer and of his four wives many of them appeared in his bands. In the 50's Abbe Lane did most of the singing, and later on in the 70's and 80's Charo (wife #4) sang for him, billed as a "folk" singer. Xavier Cugat died on October 27, 1990.

For a more complete biography, see the link below, the biography at SOLID! But I'll try to summarize a few of the things I've read about him at various places.

His family moved to Cuba when he was 5. They immigrated to the USA (NYC) when he was 15. After trying for a career as a classical violenist, he got a job as a cartoonist for the LA Times newspaper. He disliked the deadlines the newspaper required, and pulled together a band that performed in nightclubs in LA. This launched his long career in music, bringing Latin music into the American mainstream via live performances, radio, movies and even a TV show. He became a regular feature at New York's Waldorf Astoria, and spend much time traveling between LA and NY. Many of the details of his career can be found at the Xavier Cugat Wikipedia page.

He followed the fun dancing trends, making records for the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was popular. He had a reputation for marketing. Often he was photographed holding a chihuahua and a pipe. He sold "Cugat" chihuahua's, and his own line of pipes, even though he didn't smoke! He was once rumored to have said, “I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.”

Xavier Cugat with wife Charo

He was married four or five times (there are conflicting reports). His last wife was "Charo". He was 66 when he married her, and she was 15, passing for 25! From Charo's Wiki page:

[...] Official documents in Murcia, Spain (where she was born) and the United States indicate she was born in 1941, but Charo insists she actually was born in 1951, a claim that has been upheld in court (see below).

The performer has said in past interviews that her parents allowed her to falsify her age to appear to be older after marrying 66-year-old band leader Xavier Cugat when she was 15. Further complicating the question is the fact that contemporary press reports gave her age at marriage as 21, an April 1966 column on the wedding plans stated she was 20 and Cugat was 60, and columns less than two years before the marriage refer to her as Cugat's "18-year-old protegée"—which, if she was falsifying her age, would have made her actually 13 at the time. [...]

(see link for footnotes) In an interview in 2005, Charo described her marriage to Cugat as a "business contract":
[...] In a February 2005 interview with the Los Angeles-based Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión, Charo claimed that her marriage to Cugat had been merely a "business contract," a way for him to legally bring her over to the United States, where he was based. She moved to 257th street in The Bronx, New York City along with her mother and aunt, and was regularly featured in shows with Cugat's orchestra in New York and Las Vegas, as well as in overseas engagements in Latin America and Europe. She claims he was confident in her eventual success from early on, and that she gave him a Rolls-Royce as a parting gift once she came of legal age. [...]

In 1971, Cugat suffered a stroke, and retired from show business. After his divorce from Charo in 1978, he moved to Barcelona, where he ended his days.

A video clip, "She's a Bombshell from Brooklyn" (From "Stage Door Canteen", 1943. 3 minutes and 19 seconds):

Carmen Miranda-Orq Xavier Cugat (3 minutes 31 seconds):

Xavier Cugat orq-Lina Romay-Carlos Ramirez-Esther Williams (6 minutes, 2 seconds):

Xavier Cugat - "The Breeze And I" Recorded in 1940 Vocals by Dinah Shore (3 minutes 33 seconds):

Related Links:

Xavier Cugat biography at SOLID!

IMDB Xavier Cugat

You Tube videos

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