Gloria Estefan (Spanish: [ˈɡloɾja esˈtefan]; born Gloria María Milagrosa Fajardo on September 1, 1957) is a Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress, and businesswoman. A contralto, she started her career as the lead singer in the group “Miami Latin Boys”, which later became known as Miami Sound Machine.
Estefan experienced worldwide success with “Conga” in 1985. The song became Estefan’s signature song and led to the Miami Sound Machine winning the grand prix in the 15th annual Tokyo Music Festival in 1986. In the middle of 1988, she and the band got their first number-one hit for the song “Anything for You.”
In March 1990, Estefan had a severe accident in her tour bus. She made her comeback in March 1991 with a new world tour and album called Into The Light. Her 1993 Spanish-language album, Mi Tierra, won the first of her three Grammy Awards for Best Tropical Latin Album. It was the first number-one album on the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart, established when it was released. It was also the first Diamond album in Spain. Many of her songs, such as “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” “1-2-3,” “Get On Your Feet,” “Here We Are,” “Coming Out of the Dark,” “Bad Boy,” “Oye!,” “Party Time” and a remake of “Turn the Beat Around” became international chart-topping hits. Estefan has sold an estimated 115 million records worldwide, including 31.5 million in the United States alone.
She has won three Grammy Awards and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Las Vegas Walk of Fame. In 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contributions to American music and received the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2017 for her contributions to American Culture Life. Estefan also won an MTV Video Music Award, she was honored with the American Music Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as being named BMI Songwriter of the Year. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and has received multiple Billboard Awards. She is also on the list of VH1 top 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in Billboard’s Top 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time.
Gloria Estefan (née María Milagrosa Fajardo) was born into a middle-class household on September 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba, to parents José Fajardo (1933–1980) and Gloria García (1930–2017). Estefan’s maternal grandparents were Spanish immigrants. Her maternal grandfather, Leonardo García, immigrated to Cuba from Pola de Siero, Asturias, Spain, where he married Gloria’s grandmother, Consuelo Perez, who was originally from Logroño, Spain. Consuelo’s father Pantaleón Perez served as the head chef during the tenure of two Cuban presidents at the Cuban White House. Estefan’s paternal side also had musical sensibilities, as the lineage had a famous flutist and a classical pianist.
During her childhood, Estefan’s mother Gloria Fajardo (nicknamed “Big Gloria”) won an international contest and received a Hollywood offer to dub Shirley Temple’s films in Spanish. However, Leonardo García did not permit his daughter to pursue the offer. Gloria Fajardo would earn a Ph.D. in education in Cuba. However, her degrees were destroyed upon fleeing to the United States during the Cuban Revolution.
Estefan’s paternal grandparents were José Manuel Fajardo González (who ran one of the first Cuban restaurants in Miami, Florida) and Amelia Montano (who was a poet). Estefan also had uncles who were singer-songwriters. Her father José was a Cuban soldier and a motor escort for the wife of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. As a result of the Cuban Revolution, the Fajardo family fled to Miami, Florida in 1959 and settled there. Soon after they moved to the United States, José joined the United States military and fought in the Vietnam War and moved to Houston after his participation in the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. During the Bay of Pigs Invasion, José had been captured by his cousin (who was a member of Fidel Castro’s army) and imprisoned in Cuba for nearly two years.
Soon after returning from the Vietnam War in 1968, Estefan’s father became ill with multiple sclerosis. His condition was attributed to the Agent Orange poisoning that he suffered in Vietnam. She helped her mother Gloria care for him until the age of sixteen, as her father’s condition had grown so severe that he had to be hospitalized at a Veterans Administration medical facility. She also took care of her younger sister Rebecca (nicknamed “Becky”; b. 1963) due to her mother having to work diligently to support the family. Gloria Fajardo first had to regain her teaching credentials. She then worked as a schoolteacher for the Dade County Public School system.
Estefan became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1974, under the name Gloria Garcia Fajardo, reflecting the switch from Spanish naming customs (father’s surname then mother’s surname) to English (mother’s maiden name as middle name and father’s surname last).
Estefan was raised Catholic and attended St. Michael-Archangel School and Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Miami. She graduated from college in 1979 with a B.A. in psychology, with a minor in French, from the University of Miami. When Estefan was studying at the university, she worked as an English/Spanish/French translator at Miami International Airport Customs Department and, because of her language abilities, was once approached by the CIA as a possible employee.
In 1975, Gloria and her cousin Mercedes “Merci” Navarro (1957–2007) met Emilio Estefan, Jr. while performing at a church ensemble rehearsal. Emilio, who had formed the band the Miami Latin Boys earlier that year, learned about Gloria through a mutual acquaintance. While the Miami Latin Boys were performing at a Cuban wedding at the Dupont Plaza Hotel, Gloria and Merci (who were wedding guests) performed two Cuban standards impromptu. They impressed the Miami Latin Boys so much that they were invited to join the band permanently with the band’s name changing to Miami Sound Machine. Gloria, who was attending the University of Miami at the time, only agreed to perform during the weekends so that her studies would not be interrupted.
Beginning in 1977, Miami Sound Machine began recording and releasing various albums and 45s on the Audiofon Records label in Miami. The first album from 1977 was entitled Live Again/Renacer and was released with two different covers. After several more releases on the Audiofon label as well as the RCA Victor label and Miami Sound Machine’s own label MSM Records, the band was signed to Discos CBS International and released several albums, 45s, and 12″s beginning with the 1978 self-titled album Miami Sound Machine. Growing in popularity in both the U.S. and around the world, the group would continue recording and issuing various works for Discos CBS International through 1985. It was also in 1978 that Gloria married Emilio Estefan, Jr. after two years of dating.
In 1984, Miami Sound Machine released their first Epic/Columbia album, Eyes of Innocence, which contained the dance hit “Dr. Beat” as well as the ballad “I Need Your Love.” Their more successful follow-up album Primitive Love was released in 1985 launching three Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: “Conga” (U.S. No. 10), “Words Get in the Way” (U.S. No. 5), and “Bad Boy” (U.S. No. 8), as well as “Falling in Love (Uh-Oh)” (U.S. No. 25) which became follow up hits in the U.S. and around the world. “Words Get in the Way” reached No. 1 on the US Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart, establishing that the group could perform pop ballads as successfully as dance tunes. The song “Hot Summer Nights” was also released that year and was part of the film Top Gun.
Their next album, 1987’s Let It Loose, went multi-platinum, with three million copies sold in the US alone. It featured the following hits: “Anything for You” (No. 1 Hot 100), “1-2-3” (No. 3 Hot 100), “Betcha Say That” (No. 36 Hot 100), “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” (No. 5 Hot 100), and “Can’t Stay Away from You” (No. 6 Hot 100). “Can’t Stay Away From You,” “Anything for You,” and “1-2-3” were all No. 1 Adult Contemporary hits as well. In that same year, Estefan took top billing and the band’s name changed to Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine.
In 1989, the group’s name was dropped, and Estefan has been credited as a solo artist ever since. In 1988, after the worldwide chart success of single “Anything for You,” her Let it Loose album was repackaged as Anything for You.
In late 1989, she released her best-selling album to date, Cuts Both Ways. The album included the hit singles “Don’t Wanna Lose You” (Hot 100 No. 1 hit), “Oye mi Canto,” “Here We Are,” “Cuts Both Ways” (No. 1 on the U.S. Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks chart), and “Get on Your Feet.”
While touring in support of Cuts Both Ways on March 20, 1990, near Scranton, Pennsylvania, Estefan was critically injured, suffering a fractured spine when a semi-truck crashed into the tour bus she was in during a snowstorm. Estefan was returning from a meeting with President George Bush to discuss participation in an anti-drugs campaign. She was taken to Community Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit and the next day was flown by helicopter to New York City, where surgeons at the Hospital for Joint Diseases at NYU Langone Medical Center permanently implanted two titanium rods to stabilize her vertebral column. Her rehabilitation required almost a year of intensive physical therapy and she noted that “there were times when the pain was so bad I prayed I’d pass out.” However, she achieved a complete recovery and returned to an international tour ten months after the collision.
Estefan has written two children’s books: The Magically Mysterious Adventures of Noelle the Bulldog (2005) and Noelle’s Treasure Tale (2006). The latter book spent a week at No. 3 on the New York Times Bestseller list for children’s books.
She also collaborated on a cookbook with her husband entitled Estefan Kitchen, which was published in 2008. It contains 60 traditional Cuban recipes.
Estefan became romantically involved with the Miami Sound Machine’s band leader, Emilio Estefan, in 1976. As she later revealed, “he was my first and only boyfriend.” They married on September 2, 1978 and have a son, Nayib (born September 2, 1980), and a daughter, Emily (born December 5, 1994). The family lives on Star Island.
Emily is a recording artist. Nayib is an aspiring filmmaker and owner of the Nite Owl Theater in Miami, Florida. On June 5, 2010, Nayib married Lara Diamante Coppola in the backyard of his parents’ house. On June 21, 2012, the first Estefan grandchild was born: grandson Sasha Argento Coppola Estefan. Gloria Estefan said that “Sasha Argento,” which means “benefactor of mankind” in Arabic, was a possible name that she and Emilio thought about naming their son Nayib.
- Live Again/Renacer (1977)
- Miami Sound Machine (1978)
- Imported (1979)
- MSM (1980)
- Otra Vez (1981)
- Rio (1982)
- A Toda Maquina (1984)
- Eyes of Innocence (1984)
- Primitive Love (1985)
- Let It Loose / Anything for You (1987)
- Cuts Both Ways (1989)
- Into the Light (1991)
- Mi Tierra (1993)
- Christmas Through Your Eyes (1993)
- Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me (1994)
- Abriendo Puertas (1995)
- Destiny (1996)
- gloria! (1998)
- Alma Caribeña ~ Caribbean Soul (2000)
- Unwrapped (2003)
- 90 Millas (2007)
- Miss Little Havana (2011)
- The Standards (2013)