Desi Arnaz was a multi-talented singer, musician, and actor, most actively producing music and television throughout the 1930s – 1950s. Some of his biggest musical hits were “Babalu,” “Carnival in Rio,” and “Tico-Tico.” Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y De Acha on March 2, 1917 in Santiago de Cuba. In 1933, when he was 17, he and his family fled to Miami, after then Cuban president Gerardo Machado was overthrown by Fulgenico Batista.
Arnaz officially began his musical career in Miami in 1936 by playing guitar and percussion with a small Latin band, and by 1937 he was well on his way to stardom when he was hired by Xavier Cugat. He soon struck out on his own with a band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, and also as a stage actor. He is also well-known for the television show I Love Lucy; which debuted in 1951. He and his then wife Lucille Ball, whom he met in 1940 in Hollywood, produced and starred in the situation comedy as husband and wife Ricky and Lucy Ricardo. He and Lucille Ball were married from 1940 – 1960, and had two children Desi, Jr. and Lucy.
Desi Arnaz auditioned at the Roney Plaza Hotel
Desi Arnaz got his first big break in 1937 by performing his most popular song “Babalu.” He was auditioning to be a singing guitarist at the Roney Plaza Hotel. A leader in Latin music at the time, Xavier Cugat, heard his audition and hired him as a vocalist. Shortly after he left Cugat’s orchestra and struck out on his own. (Sanders and Gilbert 1993:17) He formed a Latin band and performed at various locations, including the Clay Hotel, where, as the story goes, he launched the rhumba craze. The Roney Plaza Hotel was built in 1926 and remodeled in 1968. Currently, as the Roney Palace Condominium, the building is undergoing another major renovation. It shares a building with the Ganesvoort Hotel.
Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz at the Eden Roc
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shot episodes of I Love Lucy in Miami Beach during the mid-1950s, and stayed in room 919 of the Eden Roc Hotel. Still a Miami Beach landmark, the Eden Roc Hotel was designed by renowned architect Morris Lapidus and opened in 1956. Lapidus designed other well-known Miami Beach landmarks including the Fontainebleau and Lincoln Road.
Desi Arnaz at the Clay Hotel
Desi Arnaz, who rose to prominence as the lead actor and producer of the I Love Lucy show, led his own band and often played at the Clay Hotel. As the story goes, Arnaz started the rhumba craze in Miami Beach in the 1930s, leading revelers out of the hotel and onto Española Way and Washington Avenue. The Clay Hotel was built in 1925 and still welcomes guests today.