Born Gloria Fajardo, September 1, 1957, in Havana, Cuba; immigrated to the United States, 1959; daughter of Jose Manuel (a bodyguard to Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista) and Gloria (a schoolteacher) Fajardo; married Emilio Estefan, Jr. (a musician), September 1, 1978; children: Nayib, Emily Marie. Education: Received B.A. in psychology from the University of Miami. Addresses: Home--Star Island, FL. Record company--Epic Records, 51 West 52nd St., New York, NY 10019.

The path of Gloria Estefan's career might be best traced through the successive names of the musical ensemble of which she has been a member since the mid-1970s: she joined the Miami Latin Boys as a teenaged vocalist; her bandmates then renamed themselves the Miami Sound Machine. Estefan eventually became their primary singer, and, in a little over a decade, her energetic fronting of the band and its burgeoning pop success led to its rechristening as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine. By the mid- 1990s, nearly twenty years into her career, the singer and songwriter had finally achieved solo billing.

Estefan was originally a Spanish-language performer but switched to English as the Miami Sound Machine began receiving more recognition. Over the years Estefan's recordings have sold millions and made her an international star. Her musical style is credited with helping make Latin-flavored pop music--based on the rhythms of her native Cuba--a tremendous crossover success. In 1993 she returned to her first language and released an album of songs in Spanish. Although Estefan's early years in the entertainment industry were marked by a terrible, recurring stage fright, she has metamorphosed into a sultry international pop star known for her showstopping performances. Estefan still lives in her hometown of Miami, Florida, where she is revered by its large Cuban American community. Adding to the drama of her rags-to-riches life story, in 1990 Estefan survived a near-fatal bus accident that could have put her in a wheelchair permanently.

Estefan was born in Cuba in 1957 to Gloria, a schoolteacher, and Jose Manuel Fajardo, who worked as a bodyguard for the country's dictatorial leader, Fulgencio Batista. When Communist forces, led by Fidel Castro, took over a year later, the Fajardo family fled to Miami; Estefan's father later went back on a military mission funded by the U.S. government and was captured by his own cousins and imprisoned. After eighteen months, President John F. Kennedy negotiated his release. Jose Fajardo then joined the U.S. military, and the family, which by then included Gloria's younger sister Becky, relocated several times as he transferred from base to base. Eventually he was sent to Vietnam.

As a child Estefan attended Catholic schools and began taking on an increasing amount of responsibility in her family. Her mother first attended college, then worked outside the home, and Gloria did many of the household chores. Her father, after returning from the war in 1968, was stricken with multiple sclerosis as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. The adolescent Estefan looked after her disabled father for part of the day. She found solace from the burdens in singing. "It was my release from everything, my escape," Estefan told Rolling Stone reporter Daisann McLane. "I'd lock myself up in my room with my guitar," a birthday gift her mother had ordered from Spain. "I wouldn't cry.... I would sing for hours by myself." The popular music of the era, especially British acts like the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, were a strong influence on her.

The singer met her future husband, Emilio Estefan, at a wedding in 1975. He was playing the disco hit "The Hustle" on an accordion. Smitten with the young Cuban emigre, Gloria, along with her cousin Merci, offered to sing in Estefan's local combo for free. Within a year, she was singing with the band--then called the Miami Latin Boys but sometimes billed as the Miami Latin Kings--at local weddings and had enrolled in the University of Miami as a psychology major. At the time, however, she was still a shy, overweight teenager; bandmate Emilio Estefan, though, was considered "the catch of the town." His work as a percussionist and manager of the Latin Boys, soon to be renamed the Miami Sound Machine, was only a hobby for the workaholic. He worked for Bacardi, eventually rising to the post of director of Hispanic marketing for the rum importing company.

The couple began a flirtation during the hours they spent together rehearsing and performing. They married in September of 1978, after Gloria had graduated from college. Meanwhile, she was becoming a more integral member of the Sound Machine, by this time a phenomenally popular Miami act that also included Enrique Garcia and Juan Marcos Avila. Estefan further honed her vocal style, learned more about the Cuban music of her roots, and became a percussionist as well. It was also around the time of the couple's marriage that the Miami Sound Machine recorded their first album, Renacer, on a Miami-based label. "A rough collection of original Spanish-language ballads and disco pop, it was produced on a budget of $2000, but Estefan's warm, distinctive purr comes through," wrote McLane in Rolling Stone.

By 1980 Emilio Estefan had recognized that the band's sound--with its blend of Cuban rhythms and American pop sensibilities--had surefire potential. He resigned from Bacardi in order to take the Sound Machine's local success onto another level, a move that also coincided with the arrival of the couple's first child, a boy they named Nayib. As the band's full-time manager, Emilio won a recording contract with the Hispanic division of CBS Records, called Discos CBS. Estefan performed as vocalist on four of the albums the Sound Machine recorded for the company during the early 1980s and also wrote some of the band's songs.

With such major-label backing, the Miami Sound Machine quickly became a success south of the border. Writing of this early period, McLane explained that their "sound was derivative, but for Latin American fans, Miami Sound Machine was unique--the first band that played state-of- the-art American pop rock and spoke the right language. In Venezuela and Peru, Panama and Honduras, their records shot to Number One." The band wielded their success in the Hispanic market when they convinced CBS to put out an English-language album.

The first crossover release for the Miami Sound Machine, and Estefan's debut record in English, was 1984's Eyes of Innocence. Its first single, a disco tune called "Dr. Beat," made appearances on European charts. Next, the band signed on a local trio called the Jerks--Rafael Vigil, Joe Galdo, and Lawrence Dermer--whom Emilio had met when they were recording a jingle for a commercial. The Jerks had been working on a salsa-influenced aerobics record, and some of the tracks they penned appeared on the Sound Machine's next album, 1985's Primitive Love. The hugely successful release catapulted both Estefan and the group into international pop superstardom with the singles "Bad Boys," "Words Get in the Way," and "Conga." At that point, Emilio left the band to take over as a full-time manager and producer.

The Jerks also worked on the Sound Machine's 1987 album, Let It Loose, but quit after disagreements with Emilio-- also listed as producer--over creative and financial differences. Other personnel changes in the Sound Machine--including the departure of founding drummer Enrique Garcia--also plagued the group during these years. Estefan was needled by her husband to change her look and become more outgoing on stage. "Emilio saw a side of me that I didn't let people see, and he wanted that to come out to people," Estefan said of her husband in the Rolling Stone interview with McLane. "He was trying to make me confident, but I could've smacked him. At the beginning, everybody would always accuse me of being stuck up, 'cause I was shy. But a performer can't afford to be shy."

Estefan's increasing confidence and ebullience helped propel record and concert sales through the roof, success she and the band could hardly have imagined. Let It Loose sold 4 million copies, spurred by its hit single "1-2-3." In 1988 Estefan won the prestigious BMI Songwriter of the Year award. She penned several of the songs for Cuts Both Ways, a 1989 effort. It also sold well into the millions, and international tours to support the releases were often marked by sell-out crowds. By now the act was billed as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine.

In 1990 the nonstop touring that had marked much of Estefan's career came to an abrupt halt when she was involved in a serious accident. The band's tour bus had stopped before a stalled, jackknifed semitrailer on a snowy highway in Pennsylvania one March night. The vehicle was hit from the rear by another truck, and Estefan was catapulted to the floor from the berth in which she had been sleeping. Her husband and nine-year-old son were only slightly injured, but the impact broke Estefan's back. Fans feared from early news reports that the singer might be paralyzed for life.

The public outpouring of support for the critically injured Estefan was overwhelming. Some radio stations in Miami began playing her songs nearly nonstop, and a 1-900 number was set up for well-wishers to leave messages. Cards, flowers, and presents flooded her hospital room, first in Scranton, Pennsylvania, then in New York City, where she was later transferred. Even then-President George Bush called twice to wish the singer well.

In New York, surgeons implanted two eight-inch-long titanium steel rods in her spine in an effort to fuse it back together. Although the operation was a success, it traumatized her body to such a degree that she lay nearly immobilized for weeks. Estefan returned home to Miami three months after the accident--in a plane belonging to friend Julio Iglesias--to television cameras and an emotionally charged crowd at the airport. She began intense physical therapy and had to adhere to a strict diet and a grueling exercise program to help regain her strength and mobility. For months she would awaken nearly every hour in her sleep from the lingering pain in her back and legs.

The memories of caring for her increasingly disabled father, who had passed away in 1980, also pushed Estefan through the rehabilitation process. "All my life I've been afraid of becoming an invalid," she recalled to People reporter Steve Dougherty. "He was a very athletic, strong and handsome man. For years and years I watched him weaken and die. I saw what it did to the people around him--to his family. I've had a premonition all my life that I would become a burden to the people I love." Prior to the accident, Estefan had an elevator installed in a house she and Emilio were building in Miami, for the ostensible purpose of moving musical equipment. "But in the back of my mind, I knew what it was really for. So when I was lying in the bus, I thought 'Here it is. This is the thing I've been waiting for.'"

Less than six months after the crash, Estefan performed in public for the first time on the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon to a standing ovation. By that time, she was also working in the studio and writing songs for an upcoming album. Entitled Into the Light, its first single was "Coming Out of the Dark," a gospel-inspired melody that Emilio had begun to write while they were en route to the New York hospital for the surgery. Other tracks on Into the Light include "Nayib's Song," an ode to her son, and "Close My Eyes."

"I wanted this album to be a very freeing experience for me," Estefan told Detroit Free Press music writer Gary Graff. "I wanted my vocal performance to be much more emotional, and I think they are. The emotions are right there on the surface. I was very happy when I started singing again ... and I wanted to share that feeling." Estefan embarked on another major tour for Into the Light only a year after her accident. Although doctors had predicted that it would take her three to five years to achieve the level of mobility and fitness that her performing schedule demanded, she soon returned to the same energetic movements onstage. "I just have to make sure I don't do crazy things, like backflips off the stage," she explained to Dougherty.

Estefan's musical style is credited with helping make Latin-flavored pop music--based on the rhythms of her native Cuba--a tremendous crossover success.

Critics point to Estefan's increasing success over the years as a turning point for American pop music, helping it to reflect the nation's growing Hispanic minority and influence. Record sales hovering near the 10 million mark for the Sound Machine, and later in Estefan's solo career, seemed to have awakened major labels to the possibilities of other Spanish-language acts. In 1993 Estefan recorded and released an album of Spanish-language songs entitled Mi Tierra. The record, which means "My Land," achieved sales of over 1.3 million, holding at Number One on the Latin charts and Number 27 on the pop charts. The work also featured performances by percussionist Sheila E. and the late Cuban musician Tito Puente.

In early 1994 Estefan was invited by the Grammy Awards to perform a song in Spanish for the telecast, a first for the music industry ceremony. Further proof of Estefan's impact on the music business came with the success of another Cuban American performer. She and her husband had discovered a young Miami resident named Jon Secada, and Emilio became his manager. Secada went on tour with Estefan for almost a year before the release of his solo debut album, which made him an international success. "Gloria was very important to the Latin scene," Secada told San Jose Mercury News contributor Harry Sumrall. "She opened all the doors and set a good example to the Latin community."

Late in 1993 Estefan released a holiday-themed recording of classic Christmas songs reworked with a Latin flavor. It also included a few original songs. Next, she released an album of covers in 1994 entitled Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me. Its title track became the first hit single, and the record included Estefan's versions of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" as well as the 1970s-era disco hits "Cherchez la Femme" and "Turn the Beat Around." The latter also appeared on the soundtrack to the 1994 Sylvester Stallone/Sharon Stone film The Specialist. A People review of Estefan's Hold Me granted that while "she does a fine job updating oldies ... most of her takes on other singers' hits sound too perfunctory to be essential."

In the mid-1990s Estefan took a hiatus from performing when she had another child. Doctors had warned her that becoming pregnant again might place too much pressure on her fused spine and endanger her life, but the pregnancy went well and daughter Emily Marie was delivered by Caesarean section in late 1994. The family--including teenaged son Nayib and two Dalmatians named Ricky and Lucy--lives in the Miami area in a residential enclave called Star Island, onetime home to actor Don Johnson and former Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. Estefan also became involved with a Cuban restaurant she and her husband opened in the city's trendy South Beach area.

Estefan's success has made her more than just a local celebrity in her hometown. She is known as "Nuestra Glorita," or "Our Gloria," and is revered by Miami's populous Cuban community as a sort of symbol of their own success. (Nearly ostracized as newly arrived exiles to Florida only 30 years before, Cuban Americans in the 1990s had gained enormous social, political, and economic influence in the state.) While grateful for her success, Estefan herself remains philosophical about her life--and credits the brush with tragedy for changing everything about her. "It's very hard to stress me out now," the singer told People magazine's Dougherty. "It's hard to get me in an uproar about anything because most things have little significance compared with what I almost lost.... So many people [got] behind me and gave me a reason to want to come back fast and made me feel strong. Knowing how caring people can be, how much they gave me--that has changed me forever."

Estefan took these positive feelings to her next effort, the Spanish-language, Abriendo Puertas (title means "opening doors"). Although the recording features holiday- oriented songs juxtaposed against Latin American rhythms, Estefan is quick to define it as not just another Christmas album. "There's Christmas music, and then there's this record," she explained to Billboard magazine's John Lahnert. "Some of these songs hopefully will live on way beyond Christmas because of the positive messages and interesting rhythms." Featuring a blend of Latin American musicians, the album reflects Estefan's hopes to open even more doors for this kind of music. "You have to reach a certain level where you have a strong enough fan base where they will be curious about what you do and they'll listen to it...I think my fans are going to hopefully like the direction we've moved into and grown into, since all of these projects eventually become a part of you."

Estefan's Destiny album of 1996 went platinum, and her worldwide Evolution tour that year grossed $14 million in North America alone. In 1998 she was selected to appear on the annual Divas Live! telecast on VH-1, and her film acting debut in Music of the Heart in 1999 earned an ALMA at the award ceremony the following year--She was honored in the previous year (1999) at the ALMA ceremony with a lifetime achievement award. In addition to her performance as Isabel Vasquez in Music of the Heart, the film soundtrack featured Estefan on the title track in a duet with 'N Sync, which won the performers a Blockbuster Award. In 2000 Estefan won a Latin Grammy Award for best music video for "No Me Dehes De Querer," and at the traditional Grammy Award ceremony in 2001 she received the award for best traditional Latin tropical album for Alma Caribeña, released in 2000.

by Carol Brennan

Gloria Estefan's Career

Worked as a customs translator at Miami International Airport, mid-1970s; joined group Miami Latin Boys (also billed as the Miami Latin Kings), 1975; group's name changed to Miami Sound Machine; other members included Enrique Garcia, Juan Marcos Avila, and Emilio Estefan, Jr. Toured Latin America and Europe numerous times, 1976-84; had several hit albums in Spanish. First million-selling, English-language, American album, Primitive Love, 1986. Represented United States at the Pan American Games, 1987. Solo performer since the early 1990s. Founder and owner, with husband, Emilio, of Larios on the Beach, a Cuban cuisine restaurant in Miami, FL.

Gloria Estefan's Awards

Songwriter of the Year, BMI, 1988; lifetime achievement award, Premio lo Nuestro Musica Latina, 1992; lifetime achievement award, American Latino Media Arts (ALMA), 1999; outstanding actress in a feature film, ALMA, 2000; Blockbuster Award, 2000; best music video, Latin Grammy Awards, 2000; best traditional tropical Latin album, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 2000.

Famous Works

Recent 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.

Further Reading

Books

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about 7 years ago

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