Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
September 1, 1957
1980s - Present
Currently Known For:
Singer, Songwriter, Actress, and Businesswoman
Conga, Get On Your Feet, 1-2-3, Coming Out of the Dark
“As an entertainer, my job is to help people have fun.” Launching her career as the lead singer for the Miami Latin Boys in the late 1970s, Gloria Estefan caught her first big break in 1985 when she released her signature single, “Conga,” which earned the band the top honor at the 15th annual Tokyo Music Festival in 1986. Following up with the hit single, “Anything for You,” Estefan had a minor setback in the 1990s when a severe tour bus accident left her paralyzed. Relearning how to walk, Estefan came back even stronger the next year with the release of her debut solo album, Into the Light. Since then, she hasn’t looked back with nearly a dozen international hits and chart-topping singles that have put the 60-year-old singer and songwriter in good company as one of the greatest artists of all time!
Getting Her Start: Early Life and Rise to Fame
Long before she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Gloria María Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia was born on September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba to a Cuban soldier and his wife. When the Cuban Revolution was in full swing, Estefan’s father was briefly jailed before the family fled to Miami, Florida. “I do remember, though, when my father was jailed right after the revolution,” Estefan recalled. “I remember going to the jail with my mom and my grandmother to visit him.” Once in America, her father signed on with the United States military and fought in the Vietnam War where the use of Agent Orange poison later caused him to fall extremely ill. It was decades later when Estefan finally learned that her father was a member of the CIA during the war.
“I found out later that he was in the black ops, and that’s why he never talked about anything. He had a mysterious briefcase that he took to his R&R trip when he was in Vietnam,” Estefan said of her father. Upon his return home, her father’s illness took over their lives. “My mama had to work because she realized that my dad was only going to get more ill. And then I cared for my dad and my younger sister, like from the age of 12 to 18, 19, it was all him.”
Amid caring for her father, Estefan graduated high school and enrolled at the University of Miami where she graduated in 1979 with a degree in psychology and a minor in French. During this time, she worked as an English, Spanish, and French translator with the Customs Department at the Miami International Airport but, even then, her focus was on music. Beginning in 1977, she signed on as the lead singer with the Miami Sound Machine, formerly known as the Miami Latin Boys, which was led by Emilio Estefan Jr., a Cuban-American producer who forever changed Gloria’s life.
“I’ll never forget that day,” she said of meeting Emilio. “One of the guys from my brother’s school wanted to put a band together… so, in comes this man carrying an accordion and wearing very short shorts. And I remember looking at his legs. He’s got incredible legs, Emilio. And his hands. Then a few months later, my mom dragged me to a wedding and there’s this band and then I see a guy playing “Do the Hustle” on the accordion and I go, I know this guy. I remember him. And then we bumped into one another in a doorway and he said, ‘You’re that girl.’”
Joining Emilio on stage during the wedding, the two were soon inseparable as she joined the Miami Sound Machine and sang lead vocals on their debut album, Live Again/Renacer, under the Audiofons Records label. The group released a handful of singles under the label before signing on with RCA Victor and then establishing their own record label, MSM Records. This move gave them even more freedom to perfect their sound as their popularity soared throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1984, they found an even bigger international fanbase with their album, Eyes of Innocence, which featured “I Need Your Love” and “Dr. Beat,” both of which gained them global recognition and critical praise.
In 1985, the Miami Sound Machine released their biggest album yet, Primitive Love, featuring three top 10 Billboard Hot 100 singles—“Conga,” “Bad Boy,” and “Words Get in the Way.” Coincidentally, Top Gun was released in 1986 and featured the band’s single, “Hot Summer Nights.” The following year, the group released their tenth studio album, Let It Loose, which generated three million sales in the United States and was certified multi-platinum. It’s biggest single, “Anything for You,” ranked at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Despite the band’s incredible success, Estefan launched her solo career in 1989 with the release of Cuts Both Ways, which is her best-selling album to date and features the top-ranked Billboard Hot 100 single “Don’t Wanna Lose You” as well as “Get On Your Feet.” On the heels of this success and in the middle of her Cuts Both Ways tour in 1990, Estefan was in a tragic tour bus collision when a semi-truck crashed into her bus during a snowstorm. Severely injured with a fractured spine, Estefan was flown to New York City where her spine was stabilized with titanium rods at the Hospital for Joint Diseases at NYU’s Langone Medical Center. Even then, the prognosis didn’t look good as physicians thought she was permanently paralyzed.
“They said, ‘You probably won’t be able to have another child,’” Estefan said. “Cause that was my plan after the tour. And the doctor says, ‘I’m hoping that you’ll at least be able to walk gingerly, but I don’t think you’ll ever be back on stage.’ And then he said to me, ‘I can tell you that it’s up to you.’”
Estefan spent the next year in rehabilitation and surprised everyone—her family, friends, physicians, and fans—when she returned to the stage stronger than ever with an international tour just 10 months after the collision. “It’s like if I climbed Mount Everest and won the, you know, Pulitzer Prize, or the—everything fantastic that could happen to a human being in one moment,” Estefan said of her return. She marked her incredible comeback with the release of her 1991 album, Into the Light, which featured another top-charting single, “Coming Out of the Dark.” When she performed the song for the first time at the American Music Awards, she received a standing ovation as she took the stage.
In the two decades since her tragic accident, Estefan has proven she’s unstoppable with the release of albums like Mi Tierra (1993), Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (1994), Destiny (1996), Gloria! (1998), Unwrapped (2007), Miss Little Havana (2011), and The Standards (2013). Amid her work in the recording studio, Estefan also launched her own reality show on the CW Network—The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep—where she, Joe Jonas, Nelly, and John Rich mentored and searched for the next big star. The series only lasted for one season in 2012, but Estefan bounced back quickly with a handful of projects including the jukebox musical, On Your Feet!, which is a play about her life and career alongside Emilio. The musical first debuted in Chicago in 2015 before making its Broadway debut. In 2017, the show launched the US National Tour and performed its first international performance in the Netherlands.
Outside of her award-winning work in the spotlight, the 60-year-old Estefan has made a handful of television and film appearances in addition to authoring two children’s books—The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle and the Bulldog (2005) and Noelle’s Treasure Tale (2006)—as well as cookbook, Estefan Kitchen (2008) with her husband. She’s also known as an incredibly savvy businesswoman and has partnered with Emilio to purchase several businesses including a variety of Cuban-themed restaurants like Larios on the Beach and Bongos Cuban Café as well as hotels like Costa d’Este in Vero Beach and The Cardozo in Miami Beach.
Having worked alongside her husband since they first started dating in 1976, Estefan couldn’t be happier with her work-life balance even if she says working with your significant other isn’t good for everyone. “I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but for us it’s been magical,” she says. “I mean, we’re very different. So, we’re a good balance. You know, if we were both like him, we’d be dead of heart attacks. If we were both like me, we’d be sitting on the couch playing guitar still.” With a combined net worth of $600 million and a beautiful family living on Miami Beach’s Star Island, things have certainly worked out for Gloria and Emilio after all these years!