A cartoon drawing of Latin music icon Xavier Cugat for his album All My Friends

Fresh from the Vault: Re-discovering the Genius of Xavier Cugat

09 Jan 2023

A cartoon drawing of Latin music icon Xavier Cugat and photo next to it

The legendary Xavier Cugat and his self-drawn portrait


The APM vault contains hundreds, if not thousands, of works by bonafide geniuses. The 1978 album To All My Friends by the iconic multi-talented Spanish artist and bandleader Xavier Cugat is one of the many gems we are re-introducing, Fresh from the Vault. The album is a classic in Latin music and is often cited as one of the most outstanding recordings by the Spanish master.

Xavier Cugat was born in Girona, Catalunia, Spain in 1900. When he was three years old, his family moved to Havana, Cuba. He studied classical violin at a very young age, and when he was nine years old, he worked as a violinist inside a silent movie theater. His family moved to New York City in 1915, where he appeared in recitals with the great Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso. 

In 1920, his orchestra took up residency in the legendary Los Angeles club The Coconut Grove, where he introduced the Tango to a broader American audience. In 1931, Cugat and his orchestra played at the grand opening of The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, where he and his band would be its house band for decades.

Cugat's success as a bandleader led him to appear in many Hollywood films, including A Date with JudyHoliday in Mexico, and Chicago Syndicate.

Aside from his musical expertise, Cugat was also a renowned cartoonist. He drew for the Los Angeles Times during his residency at The Coconut Grove. A great example of his artwork is the self-portrait in the To All My Friends album. Xavier Cugat died in Barcelona, Spain, in 1990. He was 90 years old.

To All My Friends was released in 1978 by Intersound Records, and it contains 11 classic Latin-American tracks produced by Norman Chandler. All tracks were recorded in Germany.

Here's an exclusive interview with the great Xavier Cugat done in 1978, right after the recording of the album. This interview was printed in the CD sleeve.

"Mr. Cugat, is this the first time you recorded an album in Germany?"

Cugat: "Yes, and I am really astonishly surprised about the way they record here in Germany, and the technical quality."

"Did you start your musical career as a Latin American Music bandleader?"

Cugat: "No, I started as a classical violinist. When I was six years old, the only violin maker in Cuba gave me a very small violin, not a toy, a regular one for Christmas. We were four brothers and a sister, but nobody in the family was a musician. I liked to play on that "toy" so much, that my father said: "Well, you don't go to School, you just play the violin all day long." When I was 8 years old, I got a scholarship to study music in the conservatory of Havanna. When I was 12 I was the concert master of the Symphony Orchestra and the Opera Company. At the age of 18 I gave a concert in San Francisco - playing Brahms Violin Concerto with the Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alfred Hertz. Critics said after the concert: "Good Violinist, but not great!" - So I put the violin in the case and never played again - I feel in the concert world there is no in between; either great - or nothing.

I then took up my hobby as a profession and became a cartoonist."

"When did you form your first Latin American Orchestra?"

Cugat: "After being a cartoonist for five years for the "Times" newspaper, I organised my first Latin American Orchestra which was very successful right from the beginning. I was the first one to play in motion pictures, working on 21 films (including "Holiday in Mexico", Neve tunes Daughter', "Transatiantio Luxury", "No Live, no Love" and others) for Metro. Irave, made hundreds of records for different companies in the United States, South America, Japan and I have practically travelled the what Word with my Orchestra. Also some of the big Latin American numbers have been written for me by all the great composers: in Brazil, Ary Barroso wrote "Brazil" and "Bahia". In Mexico they wrote "Noche de Ronda" "Perfidia", "Quiereme mucho", especially for my orchestra. In the United States Cole Porter wrote "Begin the Beguine" and dedicated it to me and my orchestra. I myself have not written very much as a composer, but I wrote "The Conga", "Cuban Mambo" and some others."

"With your orchestra you also accompanied many well known singers?"

Cugat: "Yes, Frank Sinatra. The first record he ever made was with my orchestra. In fact, my theme song is by Frank Sinatra. Also Bing Crosby had some of his big hits with my or-chestra: "You belong to my heart", "Bahia", "Frenesi". Perry Como also sang with my orchestra and many others. I put Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis together for the first time on Broadway at the Paramount Theatre. And of course, when it comes to Latin American ar-tists, practically all sang with my orchestra."

"You also played many times at the White House in Washington?"

Cugat: "Yes, I have been very lucky, since President Roosevelt's time I have been invited to play for the inauguration of every president, even for President Carter. I have also been invited to play at the Japanese Palace for the Emperor and his family on October 10th, 1975, a National Feast of Independence. It was the first time a popular orchestra was ever invited to play at the Japanese Palace."

"Coming back to your work as a cartoonist..."

Cugat:"I have exhibited already in New York and Rome and I am preparing a very big exhibition in Paris. My caricatures have been reproduced many times. The campaign caricature of President Ford was mine and he used it all the time, even on stationary."

"There is also one caricature hanging in the White House?"

Cugat: "Yes, in the White House, there is a big one of the inauguration of President Kennedy who was the one to give the name to my pictures; he called them "Happy Paintings". My paintings have a sense of humor which makes people smile.

"Talking again of the early days of your musical career. Was it easy to introduce your Latin style to the Americans?"

Cugat:"No, no, it wasn t easy, it was very difficult. Because they didn't get the rhythm, they didn't have the ear for it. I thought, well, the best way would be to put a very beautiful woman in front of the orchestra. They would feel more about the music. The first girl I put in front of my orchestra was Rita Hayworth, seventeen years old. Her name then was Rita Can-sino. I babtised her Rita Hayworth, because Casino was difficult for the American peo-ple. After Rita Hayworth I got Carmen Miranda from Brazil to do the same thing and many others. I always had a very beautiful girl in front of my orchestra, but unfortunately I had to marry five of them! I have now written my life story which is called: "My five mothers in law." They were all very, very lovely and they all loved me."

"Mr. Cugat, thank you very, very much for this interview and for this wonderful new album dedicated.

Full Credits:

Track List:

  1. La Nova Cucaracha (Composer: Public Domain, Juan Erlando)
  2. Golden Sunset (Composer: Benny Sky)
  3. La Bamba (Composer: Public Domain, Juan Erlando)
  4. Que Lindas Las Mexicanas (Composer: Sammy Burdson)
  5. Despedida (Composer: Mac Prindy)
  6. Banana Boat (Composer: Public Domain, Juan Erlando)
  7. Cuban Holiday (Composer: Gerhard Narholz)
  8. Barbados Baila (Composer: Norman Chandler)
  9. Diamante Negro (Composer: Rolf Kulander)
  10. Braziliana (Composer: Alfred Dilz Hartenstein)

To All My Friends is a certified classic from one of the most influential figures in Latin music. Enjoy it Fresh from the Vault!