Often compared with Philadelphia-born trumpet player Ziggy Elman (1914-1968), Julio Cueva played an essential role in the evolution of Afro-Cuban music. The leader of a highly successful band, during the 1940s, he helped to introduce such later Afro-Cuban stars as vocalist Orlando "Cascarita" Guerra and pianist/arranger Rene Hernandez.
Born in Trinidad, in April 1897, Cueva made his debut as a cornet player before his tenth birthday. By his late-teens, he had been a featured soloist with the Municipal Band of Santa Clara and had toured with the Arquimedes Pous Theater Company.
Forming his own orchestra, the Municipal Band of Trinidad, in 1923, Cueva led the group until moving to Havana, Cuba in 1929. He remained active as a trumpet player following the move, appearing with orchestras led by the Palau Brothers, Moises Simons and Don Aspiazu. In the early-1930s, he recorded with Como Oscar Calle Et Sus Orchestre Cubain.
Cueva continued to follow wherever his quest for adventure would take him. After a short trip to the United States, he continued to Europe. After directing an orchestra at a Cuban tipico night club in Paris for several months, in 1934, he continued on to Madrid, where he directed the Band of the Fourth Division during the Spanish Civil War.
Returning to France, following the war, in 1939, Cueva found a much different reception than five years prior. While traveling in the Gallic territory, he was arrested and spent seventy-eight days in a concentration camp.
Frustrated by his experiences, Cueva returned to Cuba. Although he initially resumed his much-earlier position with the Palau Brothers, he left after a few months to form his own group.