Xavier Cugat, American/Spanish (1900 - 1990) band leader, composer, caricaturist and artist, was born near Barcelona, Spain. At age four, Cugat was taken to Cuba where his parents had decamped to escape political persecution. A musical prodigy, at age 12 he was a violinist with the Havana Symphony.
As an assistant concert artist, he started drawing at age 16 as a hobby while on tour with the great Enrico Caruso. Caruso amused himself while touring by making caricatures, and Cugat soon followed suit.
Cugat arrived in Los Angeles in the 1920s. Unable to find work as a classical musician, he drew caricatures of movie stars for the Los Angeles Times. The actor Valentino had to dance a tango in his next film and asked Cugat to put together a band to accompany him. Originally called "The Gigolos," after their initial booking at the Coconut Grove, the band went on to become one of the most famous Latin dance bands in the world. He was one of the pioneers of Latin American dance music. During his eight-decade-long career, Cugat helped to popularize the tango, the cha-cha, the mambo, and the rhumba. His hits included "El Manicero" in the 1930s, "Perfidia" in 1940, and the original recording of "Babalu" in 1944. Members of Cugat's band included Desi Arnaz, Miguelito Valdés, Tito Rodriguez, Luis del Campo, Yma Sumac, and his third wife (of four), Abbe Lane. Cugat used the success of his musical career as a springboard for a movie career that included appearances in such films as Gay Madrid (1930), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Bathing Beauty (1945), Weekend at the Waldorf (1945), Holiday in Mexico (1946), On an Island With You (1948), A Date With Judy (1948), Chicago Syndicate (1955), and Desire Diabolique (1959). Beautiful women were consistently featured in Cugat's band. After helping Rita Hayworth launch her career, he appeared in her film You Were Never Lovelier. Cugat's recordings of the 1950s featured the singing of his third wife, Abbe Lane. In the mid-'60s, he featured his fourth wife, Charo, who he billed as a "folksinger." Upon his retirement in 1970, Cugat returned to Spain. He died in Barcelona on October 27, 1990. His band, which was led by Tito Puente following his retirement, continued to perform under the direction of dancer, musician, and vocalist Ada Cavallo. His 16 year reign over the prestigious Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in NYC was unprecedented. Called the "King of the Rumbas, Cugat died in his native city on Oct. 28, 1990. He authored two books, I, Cugat and My Wives. Exhibition: llsley Gallery (LA), 1932; De Young Museum, 1943 (self-portrait); San Diego Art Guild, 1945. San Francisco Examiner, 10-28-1990 (obit).
Title: "The Musician Clown".
Medium: Oil on Canvas Board.
Size: 11 1/2 by 9 3/4 inches; framed 17 3/4 by 15 3/4 inches.
Signed: Lower Left
Condition: Light surface spray paint, lower half. Otherwise Very Good Vintage Condition.
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