Gloria Estefan (birth name Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo, born September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba), is a five-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, who began her career as lead vocalist for the then exclusively Spanish-language band, Miami Sound Machine
, in 1975, and crossed over to mainstream popular success with English-speaking audiences with the international hit single, "Conga", in 1986.
Known as the "Queen of Latin Pop", Estefan is one of the most recognized music artists in the world. Billions have heard her, millions have seen her perform - and with over 70 million albums sold worldwide, she is the single most successful crossover performer in Latin music history.
Cuban-born, Estefan's family moved to Miami, Florida, when she was two years old, following the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Estefan's father, Jose Fajardo, was captured in the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion that failed to overthrow the new communist government established by Fidel Castro. Her father was held as a prisoner until an exchange was arranged by then-President John F. Kennedy.
Estefan's father also served as an officer in the United States Army in Vietnam, where he is suspected of having been poisoned by Agent Orange, a defoliant used extensively during the Vietnam war. He contracted multiple sclerosis, and was nursed by a young Estefan for many years. He died in 1980.
Gloria Fajardo became romantically involved with the Miami Sound Machine's
band leader, Emilio Estefan, in 1976. She and Emilio married on September 2, 1978. They have two children: Nayib (born September 2, 1980) and Emily Marie (born December 5, 1994).
Estefan was raised primarily in Miami (though she accompanied her mother, father and younger sister, Becky, to several military bases in the 1960s during her father's military service). While attending the University of Miami, she worked as a Spanish and French translator at Miami International Airport's Customs Department. Estefan graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in communications and psychology (with a minor in French), and is a prominent advocate for the university.
Estefan's first major public performance was at a large Cuban wedding when Emilio asked her to join the band to sing on stage, after which she received a standing ovation.
A few weeks later, she became the lead singer for the Miami Sound Machine
, which performed and recorded in Spanish in the early years of its existence. The Miami Sound Machine
soon gained a large fan base and released an LP in 1977 with a local company. It was the first all-Spanish album from CBS International.
With Estefan on vocals, the Miami Sound Machine
had its first English-language hit with "Dr. Beat", which topped the dance charts across Europe, from the album, Eyes of Innocence
, in 1984. Primitive Love
was released in 1986; "Conga", "Bad Boy", and "Words Get in the Way" were crossover hits. Her next album, 1988's Let It Loose
, went multi-platinum, with several million copies sold and the following hits: "Anything for You" (#1 Pop), "1,2,3" (#3 Pop), "Rhythm is Gonna Get You" (#5 Pop) and "Can't Stay Away from You" (#6 Pop and #1 Adult/Contemporary).
In 1988, Estefan took top billing as the band's name changed to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine
. Beginning in 1989, Estefan recorded as a solo artist for the first time. That year, she released her best selling album to date, Cuts Both Ways
(which refers to Estefan's desire to appeal to both English and Spanish-speaking fans) with hits like "Don'" Wanna Lose You" (a USA #1 hit), "Oye Mi Canto", "Here We Are", "Cuts Both Ways" (#1 in Australia) and "Get On Your Feet". Cuts Both Ways
sold more than ten million copies worldwide and reached number one in several countries.
While touring in support of Cuts Both Ways
, on March 20, 1990, near Scranton, Pennsylvania, a tractor trailer crashed into Estefan's tour bus, critically injuring her and breaking her back. Estefan was flown by helicopter to New York City, where surgeons permanently implanted two titanium rods to stabilize her spinal column. The grueling recovery took almost a year.
After extensive physical therapy, Estefan returned to the charts with a concept album, Into the Light
, in 1991. The lead single "Coming Out of the Dark", whose title was based on a phrase her husband, Emilio, hastily jotted on a piece of paper as a helicopter transported her for delicate surgery to repair her broken back, was a hit worldwide. "Coming Out of the Dark" was performed for the publicly for the first time on the "American Music Awards" in January 1991, for which Gloria received a rousing standing ovation.
The "Into the Light World Tour" displayed the relentless energy, personal warmth, and crack musicianship that Estefan had developed through her old band, the Miami Sound Machine
, and through her solo career. This tour covered 100 cities in nine countries and was seen by more than 10 million people worldwide.
In 1993 Mi Tierra
saw Estefan return to her Cuban roots with a Spanish-language album, for which she won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album. Mi Tierra
was a successful album worldwide, with over eight million copies sold. In Spain, Mi Tierra
became the country's best selling international album ever.
The Classics Collection, Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me
(a cover album), was released in 1994. "Turn the Beat Around", the first single, a disco hit from the 1970s, became one of the most successful singles of the 1990s. "Everlasting Love" was a successful club and pop hit.
The Spanish-language album, Abriendo Puertas
(1995) earned Estefan her second Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album. It spun off two number one Dance hits, "Abriendo Puertas" and "Tres Deseos", and two number one Latin singles, "Abriendo Puertas" and "Mas Alla". The Miami Herald
called Abriendo Puertas
"a danceable pan-Latin American fusion, brilliantly built on improbable instrumental combinations and layers of styles and rhythms". In 1995, Estefan sang the Billboard Latin number one song "Mas Alla" for the late Pope John Paul II as part of the celebration of his 50th anniversary in the priesthood. She was the first pop star invited to perform for the Pope. At their meeting, Estefan, an anti-communist Catholic, asked the Pope to pray for a free Cuba. She has been an active opponent of Fidel Castro's government, and supported the unsuccessful effort to keep young EliÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez in the United States.
The Platinum album, Destiny
, released in 1996, featured "Reach", the official theme of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Estefan performed in the opening ceremony, in front of an audience of two billion people worldwide.
On July 18, 1996, Estefan embarked on her "Evolution" world tour (her first tour in five years), which covered the United States, Canada, Europe, Latin America, Australia, South Africa and Asia.
Estefan appeared in a movie, Music of the Heart
(1999) and dueted with NSYNC
on the number-one Billboard and Academy Award nominated "Music Of My Heart". She also released a Latin hit with the Brazilian group, So Pra Contrariar
, called "Santo, Santo", sang with Luciano Pavarotti in "Pavarotti and Friends for Guatemala and Kosovo", released the benefit album, A Rosie Christmas
, and sang with Stevie Wonder at Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami.
In addition to her musical success, Estefan and her husband are entrepreneurs. Together, they own five business establishments in Florida: three Cuban-themed restaurants (Bongos) in Miami, Miami Beach and Orlando, and two hotels, the Palm Court Resort Hotel in Vero Beach, which was destroyed by hurricanes in the fall of 2004 (Estefan's management says it will be rebuilt and reopen as the Cabana Beach Resort in late 2007), and The Cardozo in Miami.
In addition to her five Grammys, Estefan has received a number of other prestigious awards. In May, 1993, she received the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, which is the highest award that can be given to a citizen who was born outside the United States. She has won the Hispanic Heritage Award, an MTV Music Award, two cable television "ACE" awards and the 1993 National Music Foundation's Humanitarian of the Year award. The singer is the recipient of the American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement. She also has a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Her husband, Emilio, a world-renowned music impresario, received a star adjacent to his wife's on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.
In 2003, she was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame. The City of Hope, one of her favorite charities, in 2004 presented her with the Spirit of Life Award in recognition of her contributions to the Hispanic community and in support of its charitable endeavors. Her hometown of Miami honored her, in 2004, with the Mayor's Lifetime Achievement Award.
Estefan holds an honorary Doctoral Degree in Music awarded by the University of Miami in 1993. In 2002, Barry University (Miami, Florida) bestowed upon her an honorary law degree.
She has scores of encomiums for her musical accomplishments, humanitarian and philanthropic work. In 2002, she received the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Medallion of Excellence for Community Service. The singer was Musicares Person of the Year in 1994. The Alexis de Tocqueville Society awarded her the United Way Outstanding Philanthropy Award in 1993. She was inducted into the Movieland Star Hall of Fame in 1991.
She has been honored twice by the Songwriters Hall of Fame: in 1996 she won the Hitmaker Award; she and her husband, Emilio, won the Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.
In 1992, she served as a public member of the United States Delegation to the 47th General Assembly to the United Nations.
Estefan was BMI's Songwriter of the Year in 1992. Bnai Brith honored her as Humanitarian of the Year in 1992. Also in 1992, she won the Premio Lo Nuestro Lifetime Achievement Award. Miami Sound Machine
won the American Music Award for Best Pop Band in 1987.
In March of 1990, on the day before her back was broken in a bus accident, she was honored by President George H.W. Bush for her anit-drug efforts.
At the 2005 Billboard Latin Music Awards, Estefan won the award for Tropical Airplay Track by a female artist for "Tu Fotografia".
Estefan's next album, 2000's Alma CaribeÃ±a won the first Latin Grammy for Best Music Video for "No Me Dejes de Querer". The album reached number one in Spain, the United States and several South American countries. That year, she also won the American Music Awards Award of Merit.
Greatest Hits Vol. II
was released in 2001. It contained hits from 1993 to 2000, three new songs and a remix of her first hit "Conga", now called "Y - Tu - Conga". Greatest Hits Vol. II
was a commercial disappointment, however, selling fewer than 200,000 copies, comparing unfavorably to 1992's original Greatest Hits
CD, which sold 2.5 million copies.
In 2003, Estefan released Unwrapped
, her first English-language CD in five years. She also toured Europe, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States in a promotion tour. The CD's first video, for the single "Hoy/Wrapped", was shot in Machu Picchu, Peru. "Hoy" and the next single, "Tu Fotografia", were number one on Billboard's Latin chart.
In April, 2004, Estefan appeared on the Fox Broadcasting Company's program, "American Idol", but she declined an offer to be an official judge because, she said publicly, she does not like to "judge" others.
On July 28, 2004, at the Trump Tower Building, in a press conference hosted by Donald Trump, Estefan announced that her then-upcoming tour would be her final one. The "Live and Re-Wrapped" Summer/Fall 2004 Tour, her first tour in eight years, produced by Clear Channel Entertainment, featured Estefan's greatest hits, along with new material from her recent CD, Unwrapped
, in an explosive, multi-media concert production.
Estefan began the "Live and Re-wrapped Tour" in McAllen, Texas, on July 30, 2004, and played in 28 cities. She finished her final concert tour in her home town of Miami on the weekend of October 9th and 10th, a finale in a sold-out American Airlines Arena that was delayed for two weeks by a hurricane.
HarperCollins announced in December, 2004 that Estefan will publish her first book, in English and Spanish, on October 11, 2005. In early 2005, Estefan issued a statement that updated progress on her forthcoming childrens book, which is complete. The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the Bulldog
(Las Magicas y Misteriosas Aventuras de Un Bulldog Llamado Noelle
) is a picture book, in verse, aimed at beginning readers. The respective editions will have a new English or Spanish single CD composed and sung by Estefan. The entertainer will embark on a promotional book-signing tour beginning in October of 2005.
Estefan is currently planning her next album, which is the last under her current contract with Epic Records. "I already have in mind what I want to do," she said, "but I usually wait at least a couple of years between albums."
After thirty years as an entertainer, Estefan's one unfulfilled aspiration is to perform -- as a gift to her native land - "a free concert in a free Cuba," after U.S.-Cuba relations are normalized, she said in a televised interview.
In early 2005, Estefan participated in two charity concerts to aid the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami. She sang "There's Always Tomorrow" on a live NBC broadcast, "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope", with other superstar musical acts, that raised over $18 million dollars for the Red Cross International Response Fund. Estefan also raised $120,000 for tsunami relief efforts with her performance at a private benefit concert at financier Donald Trump's Mar-A-Largo resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Gloria Estefan Foundation, funded in significant part by the royalties from three of her popular songs ("Always Tomorrow", "Coming Out of the Dark" and "Path of the Right Love") quietly disburses approximately a half million dollars to various charitable causes annually. Created in 1997, The Gloria Estefan Foundation's guiding principle is to help those who struggle outside the safeguards of society by promoting good health, education and cultural development. Her foundation supports charitable programs for disadvantaged children, to help empower young people through education and opportunity. Its mission includes funding financial scholarships annually for needy students, and assisting abused and neglected children. Estefan is a major supporter of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, which is part of the University of Miami School of Medicine. The Miami Project is the world's premier research center dedicated to treating people with spinal cord injuries and finding a cure for paralysis. Billboard Magazine quoted a project spokeswoman as saying the following: "As [Miami Project's] capital campaign director, Gloria has been instrumental in helping raise more than forty million dollars . . . Without her, we would not be the largest, most comprehensive spinal-cord-injury research center in the world".