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Hispanic Heritage

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Birth: September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba
Occupation: singer, songwriter, actor

Gloria Estefan has been entertaining fans since she joined The Miami Latin Boys in the 1970s. She has inspired many people, and helped to bring the Latin sound to the pop genre. She has weathered many storms, but still managed to continue to release platinum-selling record after record.

Estefan was born "Glorita" Fajardo, in Cuba, on September 1, 1957, just two years before Fidel Castro became president of the island nation. Following Castro's ascent to power, Estefan's parents, Jose Manuel Fajardo and his wife, Gloria, fled to Miami with their infant daughter. In Cuba, Jose had been a former volleyball star and policeman, and two years after his arrival in America, he participated as a tank commander in the futile Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. He was captured by his cousin, a member of Castro's military, and was jailed for over a year and a half. While Estefan's father was imprisoned, her mother struggled in a strange land to make ends meet. Young Gloria was in first grade when Jose returned from Cuba. Soon thereafter, however, he enlisted in the United States Army, and went on to serve in Vietnam. When he returned to the United States in 1969, Jose was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, leaving ten-year-old Gloria to take over much of the burden of caring for her him as well as her younger sister, Becky, while her mother worked in the daytime and attended night school.

Gloria managed to maintain excellent grades at Our Lady of Lourdes all-girl high school while caring for her father, but she had no time for a social life. Instead, she found comfort in singing and playing her guitar. Estefan had loved music from a young age; while her father was in Vietnam, she sent him recordings of her singing. He had responded with a letter saying "One day, you're going to be a star." When Gloria was 16, her long role as caretaker was finally over when her father was admitted to the VA hospital. In 1975 she graduated from Lourdes Academy, going on to attend the University of Miami, where she graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in Psychology in 1978.

Miami Sound Machine

While she was still in college, Gloria was persuaded by her mother to attend a wedding, where a band called the Miami Latin Boys was playing. The band leader, Emilio Estefan, asked Gloria to sing with the band for a few numbers--she received a standing ovation. Soon, Gloria and her cousin, Merci, joined the band, which was quickly renamed the Miami Sound Machine. As the popularity of the band grew, they went from playing small weddings to performing in front of larger crowds and eventually recorded their first album, Renacer.

Although Gloria and Emilio maintained a platonic relationship for the first few months of playing in the band together, they eventually began dating, and on September 1, 1978, Gloria's birthday, they were married. In 1980 Estefan gave birth to a son, Nayib. The same year, her father died. Emilio Estefan, sensing the band's potential for stardom, resigned from his job as director of Hispanic marketing at Bacardi in order to manage the band full time, swiftly obtaining a contract for them to record four albums with the Latin Music division of CBS, Discos.

The music of Miami Sound Machine blended sambas with pop and disco influences. Their first albums were in Spanish and were largely unknown to English speakers, but they were very popular with Hispanic American audiences, especially, of course, in Miami. During their early years, the band toured several Latin American countries and had several hit songs in Spanish-speaking countries. In 1984, they released their first English-language album, Eyes of Innocence, and scored their first big American hit with "Dr. Beat." The song rose to number ten in the United States and was on the charts in Europe as well.

In 1986 the song "Conga" from the album Primitive Love became a true crossover breakthrough: it was the first song ever to simultaneously hit the top of Billboard's charts in pop, R&B, Latin, and dance music. The album included both English and Spanish language recordings, and the song itself went on to win the American Music Awards for Best New Pop Artist and Top Pop Singles Artist. Other hits from the album included "Bad Boys," and "Words Get in the Way". This would be the last album on which Emilio Estefan would perform--from this point on, he was full-time manager and producer for the band.

The band's success prompted a move to CBS Epic label, the mainstream music division of CBS. Miami Sound Machine had altered over time, with several changes in band members over the years. The recording studio musicians were often different from the touring concert band members, and musically, dance numbers were interspersed with ballads, featuring Estefan's melodic singing. As Estefan herself rose in popularity, the band changed names yet again to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

Estefan and the Sound Machine's popularity continued to soar, and they performed to sell-out crowds in large stadiums. Music videos on MTV and VH-1 introduced to band to many more fans. In 1987 the album Let It Loose sold four million copies and featured the hit singles "1-2-3," "Anything for You," and "Betcha Say That." Their 1989 album, Cuts Both Ways, had only Estefan's name on the cover. She had written seven of the songs and won BMI Songwriter of the year. Estefan was one of the first musicians to recognize that undiluted Cuban music had huge potential among world audiences, and in 1990, she released the Spanish-language single "Oye Mi Canto."

Accident Changed Life

On March 20, 1990, Estefan was on a tour bus near Scranton, PA, bound for a concert in Syracuse. The singer was stretched out on a bunk, asleep, while the bus was stopped in traffic backed up behind a jackknifed truck, when a truck plowed into the back of the bus. Estefan was thrown from her bunk and slammed into the middle of the bus, breaking her vertebrae. Emilio and Nayib, who was nine at the time, suffered minor injuries. She was rushed to the Scranton Community Medical Center, where doctors stabilized her back, and then she was flown via helicopter to the Hospital for Joint Diseases Orthopaedic Institute in New York City, where surgeons used titanium rods to align her vertebra and fuse them.

Months of difficult recovery followed, and Estefan underwent endless hours of physical therapy for over a year. At first, she had great difficulty with even simple tasks, such as brushing her teeth, but she persevered against the pain. In an interview with Patti Davis of Living Fit magazine, Estefan explained that she continued to strive "Because I had studied psychology. I understand the stages. You have to go through the depression, the crying. Then, at a certain point, I pulled myself up and said, 'Okay, no more. You can't continue this way.' I wasn't going to end up in a wheelchair. I had seen my father confined to a wheelchair; I saw his helplessness and I didn't want that for myself or my family." Estefan feels that her recovery was aided by the love and support of her family and of the thousands of fans who expressed their best wishes for her recovery with a barrage of flowers, gifts, and notes.

Amazingly, she made her first public appearance only six months after the accident, on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, to a standing ovation. She had already started writing songs for her next album, Into the Light, and within a year she was on the road, starting on a world concert tour. In 1992 she released a Greatest Hits album, which went platinum.

Estefan continued her dedication to presenting Latin music to the mainstream audience: her 1993 album Mi Tierra (My Land) was entirely in Spanish and was a tribute to Cuban music of the 1930s and 1940s. It was wildly successful, selling nearly 10 million copies, and won a Grammy award for Best Tropical Latin Album. A string of successes followed, including both Spanish and English language recordings. Estefan was the first performer asked to perform a song in Spanish at the 1995 Grammy Awards, where she also received a Grammy for Best Latin Performance for Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors), a song that was heavily influenced by South American music. She was asked to sing at the Olympic Games in 1996, where she performed her hit song "Reach" to an audience of millions.

In 1998 Estefan performed at the Super Bowl XXXIII halftime show, as well as released the album Gloria!, which mixed Cuban and dance music. That same year, she appeared on VH-1 in the Diva's Live concert with such performers as Shania Twain and Aretha Franklin. In 2000 she received an Award of Merit at the American Music Awards, and in 2001 she released a hit album titled Alma Caribena (Caribbean Soul), which was entirely in Spanish. She also released her second Greatest Hits album, which contains a version of "Conga" remixed by her son Nayib. Also in 2001 Gloria and Emilio Estefan also became the first Hispanics to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame of the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Although she was successful with her music during the early 1990s, the bus accident left Estefan with a lingering health issue. She and Emilio had been trying to have another child with no success; tests showed that her fallopian tube had been injured in the accident. Within a month of surgery to repair the injury, Estefan was pregnant, and daughter Emily was born in October of 1994. Several months later, Gloria and Emilio decided to take a break and went boating in Miami. A small boat tried to jump their wake but crashed into the Estefan's boat. Tragically, the driver, a 29-year-old law student, was sucked under the propellers. Emilio dove into the sea and kept the man's head above water while Gloria called for help from her cell phone, but the young student died. The event prompted Estefan to begin a campaign for boating-safely legislation, and she was instrumental in bringing about the passage of a Florida law requiring young boaters to take safety classes.

Declined Pope's Invitation

Despite leaving Cuba when she was very young, Estefan has remained keenly aware of the political developments in that country. When the Pope was visiting Cuba, Estefan turned down an invitation to sing before him. Explaining her reasons in an interview with the Miami Herald, she said, "My going there would have turned a beautiful spiritual thing into a political thing because I thought it was fantastic that the pope was going.... But me going there would have been very political.... I would have asked for permission from the Cuban government, which I'm not about to do, and it just would have been a slap into the face of my father and everything he fought for."

In 2000 Estefan became the focus of media attention in a political context once again as she spoke out in the now-famous Elian Gonzalez case. The six-year-old Gonzalez and his mother had been trying to reach the United States from Cuba when the boat sank, killing young Gonzalez's mother, leaving the boy adrift on a life preserver until he was rescued and brought to Florida. The boy's father and the Cuban government wanted him returned to Cuba. Like many Cuban-Americans, Estefan believed that Gonzalez should have been allowed to remain in the United States, and she appeared at protests outside the house where the boy was kept, believing that as an immigrant, he had a right to stay in the United States.

Estefan has received criticism for her defense of Peggi McKinley, who was expelled from the Miami-Dade film board after speaking out against the ban on Cuban artists. Estefan's music also reflects her dedication to Cuban rights: her song, "Oye Mi Canto," was written for the Cuban people and contains the words "I want my Cuba free." In addition to her concern about Cuban rights, Estefan and her husband donate a great deal of their wealth towards good causes and charities, and in 1997 they formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation to support charities for disadvantaged youngsters.

In addition to her music, family, and charitable causes, Estefan has also tried her hand at acting, including a part in the 1999 film Music of the Heart, which starred Meryl Streep. This was followed by a role in the HBO telemovie, The Arturo Sandoval Story. For several years, Estefan has been working on a script based on the book Many Lives, Many Masters, and she is producing a movie based on the book Only Love is Real for NBC.

In recent years, Estefan has stated that she would like to spend more time with her family, cutting down on public appearances. In 2002, however, she performed again at the Olympic Games, this time at the closing ceremony in Salt Lake City, Utah. Son Nayib, who spent much time as a youngster accompanying his mother on tour, is a DJ in England and husband Emilio continues to expand their music empire.

Estefan has played a pivotal role in popularizing Latin music and paving the way for stars such as Ricky Martin. Martin has recognized his debt to Estefan, praising her "pioneering efforts." Her continuing success is due in part to her ability to meld Latin music with American tastes, and she once stated in an interview with Time, " I have the best of both worlds. I have a Cuban heart and an American head. It's a good balance."

UPDATES

September 23, 2003: Estefan's album, Unwrapped, was released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/p___1921997383?d=product&id=1921997383&, September 26, 2003.

April 18, 2004: It was announced that Estefan and her husband, Emilio, were named to receive the Spirit of Life Award, from the Latin Entertainment Industry Group of the City of Hope. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, April 18, 2004.

January 16, 2005: It was announced that Estefan would appear at a special salute to the military as part of the presidential inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C.Source:USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, January 16, 2005.

PERSONAL INFORMATION

Born on September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba; immigrated to U.S., 1959; daughter of Jose Manuel and Gloria Fajardo; married Emilio Estefan, Jr., 1978; children: Nayib, Emily Marie Education: University of Miami, B.A. in psychology. Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019; Fan club--c/o Estefan Enterprises Inc., 6205 Bird Road, Miami, Fl 33155.

AWARDS

Billboard's Best New Pop Artist and Top Pop Singles Artist, 1986; American Music Award Best Pop Band, 1987; MTV Video Music Award, 1990; Billboard Best Latin Female Artist and Music Video Award, 1991; BMI Songwriter of the Year, 1991; B'nai B'rith Humanitarian of the Year, 1992; Lifetime Achievement Award Premio lo Nuestro Musica Latina, 1992; Univ. of Miami, honorary doctoral degree of music, 1993. Hispanic Heritage Award, 1993; Medal of Honor Ellis Island, 1993; Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1993; Alexis De Tocqueville Society United Way Outstanding Philanthropy, 1993; Grammy Award Best Latin Tropical Album, 1994; Musicares Person of the Year, 1994; Billboard Music Video of the Year, 1995; Grammy Award Best Latin Tropical Album, 1996; Alma Lifetime Achievement Award, Billboard Dance Track of the Year, 1999; International Women's Forum Hall of Fame Award, 2000; Latin Grammy Award Best Music Video, 2000; The National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame (with Emilio), 2001

CAREER

Joined Miami Latin Boys 1975; groups' name changed to Miami Sound Machine; toured Latin America and Europe, 1976-84; single "Dr. Beat" first English-language hit single 1984.Primitive Love, first hit English-language album, 1986; Single, "Conga," first to appear on Billboard's dance, R&B, and Latin charts simultaneously. Solo performer, early 1990s-.Mi Tierra (1993), Abriendo Puertas and Alma Caribena. Acting: Music of the Heart (1999); The Arturo Sandoval Story (made for television), 2000.

WORKS

Selected discography

  • Eyes of Innocence , Discos CBS, 1984.
  • Primitive Love , Epic, 1985.
  • Let It Loose , Epic, 1987.
  • Cuts Both Ways , Epic, 1989.
  • Into the Light , Epic, 1991.
  • Greatest Hits , Epic, 1992.
  • Mi Tierra , Epic, 1993.
  • Christmas through Your Eyes , Sony/Epic, 1993.
  • Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me , Epic, 1994.
  • Abriendo Puertas , Epic, 1995.
  • Reach , Epic Records, 1996.
  • Don't Let This Moment End , Epic, 1998.
  • AlmaCaribena , Epic, 2000.
  • Greatest Hits, Volume 2 , Epic, 2001.

FURTHER READINGS

Books

  • Destefano, Anthony M., Gloria Estefan : The Pop Superstar from Tragedy to Triumph, New American Library.

Periodicals

  • Billboard , November 28, 1998, p. 66.
  • Calgary Sun , November 1, 1999.
  • Daily Express (U.K), 2000.
  • Entertainment Weekly Magazine , March 2001.
  • Entertainment Wire , June 12, 2001.
  • Horzu , September 8, 1998.
  • Ladies Home Journal , April 1997, p. 118.
  • Las Vegas Sun , November 2, 2001.
  • Living Fit , April 1998.
  • Miami Herald , September 28, 1997; October 8, 1997; December 20, 1997; May 31, 1998.
  • People Weekly , August 12, 1996, p. 60.
  • Time Magazine August 12, 1996.

On-line

  • American Decades CD-ROM, Gale, 1998, reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI, Gale Group, 2001, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC.
  • Biography Resource Center , Gale, 2002, http:/www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC.
  • http://immigration.about.com/library/weekly/aa012400a.htm?terms=Gloria+Estefan.
  • http://members.v3space.com/gloriaestefanlibrary/.
  • http://www.forbes.com/finance/lists/57/2000/LIR.jhtml?
    passListId=57&passYear=2000&uniqueId=6020
    &passListType=Person&datatype=Person
    Gloria Estefan Foundation.
  • http://www.gloriafan.com/bio.html.
  • Vista Magazine , 2001, http://www.spiritualfitnessonline.com.

SOURCE CITATION

Contemporary Hispanic Biography . Vol. 1. Gale, 2002.
Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale. 2007.

Photo credits

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