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Erin Currier

Xavier Cugat

Acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24"h x 12"w, Item No. 19964,

Erin Currier: “Francisco de Asís Javier Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu (January 1, 1900 – October 27, 1990) was born in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. His family emigrated to Cuba when he was three years old. He studied classical violin and worked as a violinist at the age of nine in a silent movie theater to help pay for his education. He was first chair violinist for the Teatro Nacional Symphonic Orchestra. When he was not performing, he started drawing caricatures. In 1915 he and his family arrived in New York City. In the 1920s, he led a band that played often at the Cocoanut Grove. Cugat’s friend, Charlie Chaplin, visited the club to dance the tango, so Cugat added tangos to the band's performances. Seeing how popular the dance was becoming, Cugat convinced the owner to hire South American dancers to give tango lessons. This, too, became popular, and Cugat made the dancers part of his orchestra. In 1928 he turned his act into the film Xavier Cugat and His Gigolos. He also worked for the Los Angeles Times as a cartoonist. His caricatures appeared in Photoplay magazine under the byline "de Bru." In 1931, Cugat took his band to New York for the opening of the Waldorf–Astoria hotel. He replaced Jack Denny as leader of the hotel's resident band. For sixteen years, he led the Waldorf–Astoria Orchestra, shuttling between New York and Los Angeles for most of the next 30 years. One of his trademark gestures was to hold a chihuahua while he waved his baton with the other arm. His music career led to appearing in the films In Gay Madrid (1930), You Were Never Lovelier (1942), Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), Bathing Beauty (1944), Holiday in Mexico (1946), A Date with Judy (1948), On an Island with You (1948), and Chicago Syndicate (1955).

Cugat owned and operated the Mexican restaurant Casa Cugat in West Hollywood. The restaurant was frequented by Hollywood celebrities and featured two singing guitarists who would visit each table and play diners' favorite songs upon request. The restaurant began operations in the 1940s and closed in 1986. Xavier Cugat was married five times— including to musician, singer, and actress Charo. Cugat spent his last years in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, living in a suite at Hotel Ritz. He died of heart failure at age 90 in Barcelona and was buried in his native Girona. He was posthumously inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2001.

My celebratory portrait of Cugat is comprised of cigar sleeves from Cuba and Mexico, a Japanese Lucky Cat box, ‘Stud’ brand playing cards, a Crown Prince sardines box, a Buenos Aires tango shoe tag, Playboy playing cards, a Double Time Dance Studio punch card.”