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Charo, The Eternal 'Cuchi-Cuchi' Girl, Then And Now

Editor Picks | January 17, 2018

Spanish-born bandleader Xavier Cugat (1900 - 1990) looks at his wife and compatriot, the musician and comedian Charo, as they appear on the CBS variety program 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' New York, February 26, 1967. (Getty Images)

Charo became a familiar face and figure to American TV viewers in the '70s, making comedic appearances on Chico & The Man, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and just about every talk show. But audiences were often unaware what they were seeing -- Charo's broken English and hammy acting overshadowed the fact that she was one of the world's greatest flamenco guitarists. 

Charo was born Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Molina Baeza in Murcia, Spain. She reportedly began playing guitar at the age of nine, and took instruction from the Spanish master Andres Segovia. She grew up to be a performer who was not only a virtuoso, but possessed of an exotic beauty and charisma. It was clear she would be a star, of some sort.

According to the birth certificate on file in Murcia, Charo was born in 1941, though she has claimed to be as much as ten years younger. She married the famous Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat in 1966 -- whether she was 15 or 25 on her wedding day, she was still vastly younger than her 66-year old groom. 

In the mid- and late '60s, she performed with Cugat on The Ed Sullivan Show numerous times. She became an increasingly popular guest, and not because of her guitar playing -- her bubbly personality and enthusiasm, despite limited English, proved very entertaining. She appeared on The Joey Bishop Show nine times. Dina Shore's show: 9 times. Mike Douglas: 18 times. Merv Griffin: 39 times. Johnny Carson: 44 times. Hollywood Squares: 46 times. She also did cameos on Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show, and appeared in comedy specials headlined by Bob Hope and Dean Martin.

Charo acted, too, although not too much was demanded of her -- after all, Charo was hired to play Charo-like characters, whether they were named Charo or not. On Chico And The Man, she played Aunt Charo; on The Facts of Life and The Jeffersons, she played Charo. On The Love Boat, Charo played the recurring character April Lopez, while on Fantasy Island she played Yolanda Morales, Maria Diaz, and Dolores DeMercia -- all Charos by another name.

In 1976, she starred in two made-for-TV movies, which might have been series pilots, Charo and Charo And The Sergeant.

Of course, by the mid-'70s the guitar playing was minimal -- she had become Charo the star, with her own catchphrase: "Cuchi-cuchi."

By the late 1970s, Charo had begun to suffer from overexposure. Indeed, into the '80s she became the textbook case of celebrity media saturation. She was seemingly everywhere, doing show after show after show, yet at the same time she was not actually becoming more popular.

No worries for Charo, though. She enjoyed being in the limelight and performing her brand of comedy for audiences, but music was her real calling. Charo loved to perform on stage, singing and playing the flamenco guitar, which she can make hum like no other. Charo is actually considered the world’s best flamenco guitarist. She was awarded the title of the Best Flamenco Guitarist of all time, 2 years in a row, by Guitar Player magazine.

Even today, Charo is performing her flamenco act and delighting her audiences.  Her beauty appears to be timeless and she can still “cuchi-cuchi” but that is not her claim to fame anymore. She is widely regarded as being a multi-talented musician and entertainer; being seen on Dancing With the Stars in the not so distant past.

Over the years, Charo has appreciated her American audiences and fans. Worldwide, however, she is known as a superior musician but in America, she is best known as the “cuchi-cuchi girl”. She takes no offense and actually embraces the distinction because it certainly paid off.

Tags: Charo | Music In The 1960s | The 1960s | What They Are Known For

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.