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Cuban Music Lesson: Xavier Cugat

Get ready to be schooled, asere. It’s time for a Cuban music lesson! Learn to tell your cha cha cha from your mambo without leaving your couch. Put on your dancing shoes, guayaberas, park your 57 Chevy, light up that Habano, and pay attention.

The world of filmmaking changed in the 1930s with the addition of sound. Hollywood took advantage of the new technology by churning out films with gigantic musical numbers. One of the go-to guys for these movies was the Spanish-Cuban bandleader, Xavier Cugat. Cugat, who had a name that would make any Marvel super-villain jealous, was one of the most famous Cuban bandleaders working in the United States from the 20s to the 70s.

Cugat was born in Spain, but grew up in Cuba. While living there, he soaked up the different types of Cuban music and played at La Orchestra de el Teatro Nacional. He then moved to New York and started a band among the Cuban and Puerto Rican expats. He was one of the first Hispanic musicians to gain nationwide popularity in the Unites States. In those days, Cuba was where American tourists would go for their drinkin’, dancin’, and whorin’. They could also relive the music of Havana’s nightclubs by going to see Cugat’s band in New York or LA.

FACT: He was famous for conducting his orchestra while holding a chihuahua. What can we say? He was kind of a strange guy. He must have been doing something right because he was married 4 times, the last being Charo back when she was smoking hot. Wife #3 was Abbe Lane, who you can see in the video below. What a pimp!

Cugat was featured in several films, including On An Island With You, Bathing Beauty, and Neptune’s Daughter. These were not movie masterpieces. These were overblown spectaculars, Carmen Miranda movies, or Esther Williams water ballets. In spite of their silliness, these films were hugely popular. Other musicians called him a sell out. He replied, “I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” Word, X.

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