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  • Born

    2 March 1917

  • Died

    2 December 1986 (aged 69)

Desi Arnaz (March 2, 1917 – December 2, 1986), born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in Santiago, Cuba, began his career by chance as a professional musician during the depression, singing, playing guitar and percussion for a orchestra in Miami. He moved to New York to perform in a group conducted by Xavier Cugat. In 1939, his wild conga drum antics got him a break starring on Broadway in the successful musical Too Many Girls, and he went to Hollywood to appear in the 1940 movie version, where he met co-star and future wife Lucille Ball.

Prior to meeting Ball, Arnaz had formed own band. He appeared at The Conga Club, Miami, Florida, and at as the star attraction at La Conga in Manhattan during the height of the late 1930's "conga craze". On August 5, 1939, columnist Malcolm Johnson reviewed Desi's act for the New York Sun:

"Desi Arnaz is a young man with a drum. He is a new type of Pied Piper who leads enthusiastic, uninhibited followers in the sinuous, serpentine conga dance every night at La Conga, the night club dedicated to torrid Cuban music and entertainment.

Two or three times each night, Arnaz steps down from the bandstand, his tall, goat-skin drum slung across his shoulders, and begins beating out the wild, savage rhythm which lures dancers on to the floor and behind him in the conga line.

Arnaz, a youthful, handsome Cuban (he is barely 22 years old), has headed his rhumba band at La Conga for two months now and is an established success…He is now the principal orchestral attraction at La Conga; George Abbott, the producer, has signed him for a part in a new musical to be produced in the fall; several movie companies have been making offers; and he also has been signed for phonograph recordings…."

Lucille Ball, his wife, was a radio performer in the 1940's and Arnaz was music director for the popular Bob Hope radio show, and between 1946 through 1949, Desi Arnaz broadcast radio shows twice a week, starred in three movies with his band, and recorded 43 sides for RCA Victor. Arnaz and Ball financed the pilot of their "I Love Lucy" show in 1951, after CBS executives at first opposed his co-starring in their soon to be wildly popular television series. Their show, which they produced themselves, via their Desilu production company, ran from 1951 to 1957. In 1957, Desilu bought out RKO Studios, where he and Ball had first met in 1940. Desilu at it's peak, was a show biz empire that grossed about $15 million annually and employed 800 people. Their likable stage personas, combined with bold, shrewd business sense, made them American icons & multi-millionaires before they divorced in 1960. Iin 1962, Arnaz pulled out of Desilu Productions, selling his stock to Ball for $3 million and went into semi-retirement from performing. Running Desilu had "ceased to be fun," Arnaz said in his autobiography. "I was happier cleaning birdcages and chasing rats." research staff discovered some 50 individual song titles by Desi Arnaz, all originally released on 78rpm discs between 1939 and 1955 on labels such as RCA , Columbia, Decca, MGM Records.

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