A Pair of Kings

"Portrait of Xavier Cugat, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948." Photograph by William P. Gottlieb.

On this Feast of Three Kings, celebrate the recent birthdays of a pair of musical kings:  bandleader Xavier Cugat  and rock and roll icon Elvis Presley.

Francesc d’Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu was born in Spain on January 1st, 1900.  Cugat, was dubbed “The Mambo King” in the 1995 Walt Disney feature A Goofy Movie, but Cugat’s nightclub appearances were often advertised with the less catchy moniker “‘The Tango-Rumba King” in his 1930’s heyday.  See him at work in the William P. Gottlieb Collection, where you can find photos of Cugat practicing one of his extra-musical passions: caricature. Be sure to visit Flickr for the latest set of images from the Gottlieb collection, which features a cast of legendary characters like Erroll Garner, Dizzy Gillespie and Coleman Hawkins, as well as lesser known figures such as Vivien Garry, Edwin Finckle, and Brick Fleagle, pictured at his piano with a marvelous array of ink jars and pipes.

Elvis Presley, circa 1957. Photograph by Bob Moreland.

If the twentieth century began with the birth of Cugat, the birth of Elvis helped define it. Elvis Aaron Presley was born January 8, 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Listen to The King perform  “Amazing Grace” here in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia.  Photographer Carol Highsmith visited Graceland, Presley’s Memphis home, for her 21st Century America Project, selections of which can be found in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. See her photo of the front gates of Graceland, where I have made my own pilgrimage, here.

Though their musical journeys were miles apart, the two Kings crossed paths at least once: Cugat, accompanied by his then-wife Charo, can be seen in the 1970 film Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, arriving in Las Vegas for a concert.

May all your epiphanies be musical!

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