Long before there was Santana, there was Xavier Cugat. Born in Spain in 1900, raised in Cuba, he was a violin prodigy, winning first chair in an orchestra in Havana when he was only 12. Opera superstar Enrico Caruso brought Cugat to the USA a few years later, where the boy played classical music.
Apparently, he always had an eye out for marketing, because he threw over his classical background when the tango craze swept America in the 1920s. When sound came to movies, he formed a band and made musical short features.
He popularized Chihuahuas and the rhumba. He became known as the Rhumba King. Nobody ever called him the Chihuahua King, insofar as I know.
“Cugie” was married five times, including his final marriage to Charo. If you don’t remember “the Cuchi Cuchi girl”, you’ve missed a hoot and a half. Charo was vilified as a gold-digger and a fool, two mutually exclusive categories, to my mind, but I always liked her.
In addition to being a violinist, a band leader, a master marketer, and a serial bridegroom, Xarier Cugat was a caricaturist of acknowledged talent. This YouTube video shows him leading his band AND drawing.
He retired in 1971, settled in Barcelona, and died of heart failure in 1990.
Information for this article was cribbed from Solid! The encyclopedia of big band, lounge, classic jazz and space-age sounds.
If you want to see Charo, here she is, cuchi-cuchi and all.
Isn’t she cute? Well, I think she’s cute.
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A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Create a character who has been married five times. What is the final spouse like? How long does that marriage last? What terminates it?