Gloria & Emilio Estefan: Making History Over & Over Again
By Gisel Habibnejad
The world knows them as the trailblazing power couple of Latin music; however, Miami knows Gloria and Emilio Estefan on a much deeper level. It has even been said that the Grammy Award winners have influenced a generation of artists, with more generations to come. They paved their own well-documented path by immersing themselves into their careers, and as a result, music that withstands the test of time and still echoes in modern-day music.
Gloria Estefan was born in Havana, Cuba and fled from the island as a little girl and would eventually pursue a life that would make her parents proud. As a result, she proceeded to earn a higher level of education at the University of Miami, through which she earned a BA in psychology.
With a firm education, she then pursued her lifelong dream of a professional career in music. Consequently, she joined Miami Sound Machine through which she met Emilio Estefan and became romantically involved in 1976. Two years later, the couple married and officially began their path as the influential powerhouse the world knows them as today.
Just four years shy of officially being credited as a solo artist, the “Conga” singer won her first Grammy Award in the category of Best Tropical Latin Album for Mi Tierra–this would be the first of the three awards she won for the same category in the years to follow.
Mi Tierra holds a special place in Gloria’s heart as it paved the way for her solo career, winning several accolades awarded by Billboard, the Grammy Awards, and even earning the first Diamond album in Spain. In addition, it sold over 100 million records worldwide. Not to mention, her lively performances and concerts that literally make you want to “get on your feet” from start to finish.
Among their many achievements collectively, Gloria and Emilio have earned stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, The Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award by the ALMA and Premio Lo Nuestro Musical Latina, induction into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, a spot on Billboard’s Top 30 Most Influential Latin Artists of All Time, Latin Grammy Awards, and a Sammy Cahn Lifetime Achievement Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Last November, they received the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented by President Barack Obama. Gloria shared her appreciation of the special moment, “We really do love this country and we respect it. To have been given the opportunity to live our lives the way we have and to be able to follow our dreams and work hard… it’s been phenomenal.”
And while, they were recognized by the country on this day, Emilio never forgets to acknowledge his beloved city, “Today we were thinking about Miami. Thinking about the Latino community and saying that we are proud. We never left Miami, we never changed our name and I think that’s an important thing to recognize.”
Not many people can say they performed at the Olympics and at the Superbowl twice—Gloria has done both. In fact, her hit single “Reach” became the anthem for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics.
The Estefans have always been adamant on using their fame to be involved and bring awareness to political affairs. In 2010, Gloria famously led Las Damas de Blanco march down Calle Ocho in support of the opposition movement in Cuba. Las Damas de Blanco is a group of wives and relatives of imprisoned dissidents who attend mass on Sundays wearing white followed by silently walking down the streets of Cuba.
Emilio’s contributions include producing phenomenal musical events at the White House and being appointed by President George W. Bush to the Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2002. In 2013, he also became the AARP Life Reimagined Ambassador. And in 2014, Commissioner Jean Monestime appointed him as Miami-Dade Special Ambassador.
They went on to conquer other facets of the industry, such as Gloria becoming a board of director for Univision Communications Inc. Staying true to his producer role, Emilio produced and directed his first full-length film in 2008 called 90 Millas. He has also produced multiple Latin Grammy Awards shows.
As if it weren’t enough, they are also best-selling authors. Gloria has published children’s books and cookbooks; Emilio published his second book in 2011, The Exile Experience: A Journey to Freedom in collaboration with Alberto Montaner and Carlos Pintado—the powerful book is made up of testimonials from different generations of exiles.
Throughout his career, he has received honorary doctoral degrees from Barry University, the University of Miami, Berklee College of Music, and Florida International University.
Their latest conquest involves music, dancing, and Broadway. Fans can now experience a biographical look into the lives of these trailblazing artists as individuals and as a family. On Your Feet debuted in November 2015 starring Ana Villafane as Gloria and Josh Segarra as Emilio and directed by Jerry Mitchell.
The homage comes to life with “Conga” at the end of the first act, when audience members are encouraged to join the Conga line as part of choreographer Sergio Trujillo’s plan. The show includes flashy costumes designed by ESosa accompanied with electrifying performances of their hits, such as “1-2-3” and “Get On Your Feet.” Variety magazine raves: “Newcomer Ana Villafane is a knockout in the leading role, the dazzling centerpiece of this flashy, splashy spectacle helmed by Jerry Mitchell.”
“I hope we can inspire a different generation, to make them think about how lucky we are to live in the United States and to be able to achieve the American Dream,” Gloria proudly shares about the show. “We want to give so much back to this country.”
Presently, they continue to defy the odds by actively working on creating the National Museum of the American Latino in Washington, D.C. They also became the first Cuban-Americans to buy minor ownership stake of an NFL team through the Miami Dolphins.
Locally, however, you can find the Estefans at one of their many locations of Bongos Café, or Larios on the Beach, The Cardozo, and Costa d’Este in Vero Beach. The close-knit family has remained loyal to the Magic City, living in their Star Island home since 1989.
Musically, Gloria just released Soy Mujer, an album compiled from a collection of her undisputed Spanish language hits throughout her timeless musical career.
While they’ve accomplished so much already and have become icons in the music industry, their biggest pride and joy is their children. Nayib, who’s currently working in film, was born in 1980 and gave Gloria and Emilio the gift of becoming grandparents for the first time in 2012. Emily was born in 1994 and is considered to be a miracle child, as they didn’t think it was possible to have another child after Gloria’s big tour bus accident in 1989. Taking cues from her talented parents, Emily recently released her first studio album and music video for her first single. The talented family continues to thrive in the music and film businesses.
The Cuban-born Americans fled from Cuba shortly after the Cuban Revolution in hopes of following the American Dream. Gloria and Emilio represent all Cuban-Americans in the United States and continue to set the bar high. Meanwhile, they continue to make history over and over again.
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Click here to view this post in the MSM January/February 2016 digital issue