when josé and gloria fajardo's daughter, gloria, first opened her eyes, it was havana, cuba, circa
1957 that met her gaze. unfortunately, that image wouldn't last long enough to live on in her mind. her
father, a supporter of bautista, moved the family to miami when gloria was only sixteen months old,
leaving behind a homeland she would later use music to evoke when memory failed. immigrants in a country
that considered itself burdened with an influx of castro-inspired expatriots, the fajardo family lived in
abject poverty behind the orange bowl, in one of miami's cuban ghettos.
hearing duty call, gloria's father enlisted to take part in the bay of pigs invasion. captured and imprisoned, josé spent over a year in cuba as a p.o.w.. sad though it was, the fajardo situation was not unique. "all the men were gone," recounts gloria, "all the mothers and kids were living together." like her father, gloria felt the call of duty and responded by beginning her amateur singing career, singing cuban songs to the women whose husbands had gone off to war. at such a tender age, she could not know that, one day, her music would be banned in cuba by fidel castro. when josé returned from cuba, he was transferred to texas and the fajardo family moved once again. gloria's sister, rebecca, was born and josée was sent to vietnam.
it was during her time in texas that gloria was introduced to pop music. she recalls feeling unattractive and isolated, as a child, and finding release in music. "when i was a teenager, i was fat, i was shy, i wore glasses, i had a big eyebrow and hair all over my body. they were years of torture. it was very depressing and scary, for me. music was the one bright spot in my life. my childhood made me very serious and introverted; music was an escape from that. i sang instead of crying." and sang she did. gifted a guitar by her parents, gloria would come straight home from school to care for her sister and father (who had returned from war and been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis), and practice her music. "my father would stand up, forget he couldn't walk and fall down; i had to pick him up a lot and he felt bad about that. but the music healed me. singing in my room was a way of getting stuff out." gloria's mother had begun to work, by this point, and took english classes in the evenings, in hopes of becoming a teacher. gloria counted helping her mother with her homework among her chores.
in 1975, gloria first laid eyes on the man that she would marry, emilio estefan. emilio, an up-and-coming musician, spoke to gloria's music class about the principles of music, but the two would not meet formally for another several months. it was at a wedding, to which gloria's mother had taken her, that emilio and gloria would first meet. emilio, recognizing gloria from the music class, invited her to sing a song with his band, the latin boys, and, at her mother's insistance, she acquiesced. the standing ovation she ellicted inspired emilio to ask gloria to front for the latin boys on a more permanent basis. at first, gloria refused, taking into consideration that she was about to begin college, but, receiving support from her family, she eventually agreed. the latin boys were renamed "miami sound machine" in deference to the fact that they were no longer all boys, but gloria reports not having liked the new name either, citing the dehumanizing word "machine" as her reason. the change of name also reflected a slight shift in style. gloria explains, "at the beginning, emilio and his band only did salsa music and, when i joined, things started to change a little bit. he started making some ballads so i could sing them and started encouraging me to write music and songs to do an original album." working side by side, romance blossomed between emilio and gloria. on february 12th, 1978two years after they began datingemilio presented gloria with a ring. seven months after that, the two were married. since that day, gloria has drawn strength from their love, stating, "there have been lots of moments when i said, 'i can't do this; i can't handle this' and he says, 'yes, you can'."
1980 saw a number of important personal and professional events unfold for the fajardo and estefan families. after many years of suffering, gloria's father passed on, but not before seeing his first daughter pregnant with his grandson. and after many years of hard work, miami sound machine was signed by a major label, cbs international. with three albums already under their belt, miami sound machine went to work producing more albums and paving their way to success in central and south america, and europe. in spite of their world-wide success, miami sound machine could not be heard on american radio, with the exception of a few cities with large spanish-speaking populations. "we could sell out panama city stadiums, but the american pop audience didn't even know who we were," gloria remembers. it was eyes of innocence that finally brought their brand of latin-inspired pop and dance music to english-speaking audiences. from that album, "dr. beat" became an international success and a disco favorite. it was 1985's "conga", though, that most consider to be the group's first cross-over sensation. gloria's hook "come on, everybody, let's do the conga/i know you can't control yourself any longer" seemed almost prophetic, as it forced people across the country (and across the globe!) onto the dancefloor.
with the success of "conga", the career of gloria estefan and miami sound machine was on the fast track. the group was honored by the city of miami with the key to the city and their own street. they were also sought after to appear on movie soundtracks such as top gun and cobra. in fact, the group's newly-acheived status was even apparent on their album covers. having gone from shy, awkward, loner to outgoing and senuous professional, it was gloria's face that now appeared on the albums. "i was never a natural entertainer. i loved music, but i was very shy. just growing into the sheer enjoyment of what i do has taken time," explalins gloria. the group's next album, let it loose was an even greater success, scoring four top-ten singles"anything for you", "1-2-3", "rhythm is gonna get you" and i can't stay away from you". that year's grammys ceremony, the highpoint of their career, thusfar, also presented them with a possible stumbling block. long-time collaborators, the jerks, parted ways with the estefans and miami sound machine, reportedly over disagreements over salaries. having contributed largely to the albums that had brought gloria estefan and miami sound machine international fame, both fans and records label executives were left wondering who would write the songs. to find the answer, one had to look no further than the group themselves. emilio's encouragement of gloria's talent as a songwriter was about to pay off in the form of a string of hit singles from their first album released under the name gloria estefan, cuts both ways.
on march 20th, 1990, tragedy struck. on their way to a concert in syracruse, the group's tour bus had an accident, the resulting injuries of which necessitated gloria being airlifted to a hospital for back surgery. having a fourteen inch cicatrice and two metal rods (to hold up her spine) placed in her back, gloria began a rigorous regiment of physical therapy and exericse. the accident had left gloria unable to walk, let alone deliver the high-energy performances to which her public had become accustomed. "one more millimeter and my spinal cord would have been severed," gloria remembers, "i was nearly paralyzed. it was pretty bleak. the doctor said i might be able to walk again, but he doubted that i would be able to perform. and then he said, 'it's all up to you. i have seen recoveries that have nothing to do with medicine, [but] everything to do with the person's spirit and desire to get better'." that may have been all the motivation that gloria needed to begin her recovery, but it's certainly not all the motivation she got. "i got thousands upon thousands of letters while i was recovering. many people wrote to say our music had helped get them through difficult experiences. others were praying for me in the lobby of the hospital. they made me want to come back. and, later, i wanted to tell everybody how much the power of people together in a community praying and concentrating on something positive had to do with my recovery," said gloria.
gloria's recuperation was split between the physical therapy, upon which her doctors insisted, and her music, which she had always found cathartic. an awards show performance of "coming out of the dark" signaled gloria's return to the world of performance, and stunned fans who watched a woman who had been told she may never walk again, backed by video clips of her greuling workout routine, sing about the power of spirit and love. into the light was supported by a dance-instensive global tour that put gloria back on the top of the charts. a greatest hits album followed, in 1992, containing four original songs, one of which"christmas through your eyes"inspired an album of christmas music. as gloria was coming out of her own personal darkness, though, florida's was just beginning. hurricane andrew swept across the state in 1992, leaving in its wake a trail of mayhem and destruction. just as she had done so many years ago for the women of florida whose men were off at war, gloria picked up her guitar and wrote a song for a people that she considered family. organizing a relief concert, the procedes of which would aid victims of the hurricane, gloria took center stage (both literally and figuratively) to help the people who had helped her to recover just a year before.
in 1993, gloria's audience would bear witness to another artistic redirection; mi tierra was released, capturing the sounds of 1940s havana and reminding the public of what had made gloria famous. never before had an album entirely in spanish fared so well in the north american market, selling platinum and earning gloria her first grammy for best tropical latin album. needless to say, mi tierra was an unbelievable success in other parts of the world, too; in spain, the album holds the honor of being the best selling album in the country's history.
in 1994, much to the concern of her doctors, gloria became pregnant for a second time. there was much speculation as to whether carrying the baby to term would cuase gloria's already weak back to break, again. considering her health, as well as her baby's, gloria postponed plans for an album she'd been working on and, instead, dedicated herself to an album of covers called hold me, thrill me, kiss me. "[ the pregnancy] is why i did hold me, thrill me, kiss me, which was going to be something i did later on. i thought it was a good opportunity, while i was pregnant, to make an album that was fun to do and that i wasn't going to have to tour on," she explains. as the linar notes detail, the album is an ammalgamation of songs that influenced gloria, both professionally or personally. in early december of 1994, as she had done many times before, the stalwart entertainer surprised everyone, giving birth to emily marie estefan. as with her first child, nayib, emily has brought a new energy and life to gloria. "each morning, emily and i laugh and play and sing. emily loves music. her personality is just like mine. my mother said she had to sing to me to take my diaper off. emily is the same," gloria says of her latest accomplishment.
1995 saw the release of gloria estefan's second all-spanish album, abriendo puertas. with linar notes in both english and spanish, gloria educated her audience about a myriad of latin rhythms and instruments. while mi tierra was a decidedly cuban album, abriendo puertas, as the name suggests, opened the doors to a variety of central and south american cultures. like mi tierra, abriendo puertas dispelled any notions that a spanish album could not sell well in north america, and it earned estefan another grammy in the same category. in 1996, "reach", a song co-authored by gloria estefan and diane warren which appeared on gloria's new album destiny, served as the official song of the olympics. gloria kicked off her evolution tour, in support of the album, in atlanta, the night before the opening ceremonies and returned to perform at the closing ceremonies. destiny, which is in english, is infused with latin rhythms such as bolero, merengue and samba, seeming to unite the two cultures of which estefan is a part.
in the summer of 1998, estefan released gloria!, returning againas she had with hold me, thrill me, kiss meto the 1970s. the eleven-track album was originally conceived as a remix album of some of gloria's greatest dance hits; she decided, however, that she would rather produce an album of original disco tracks, and gloria! was born. within the first month of its release, songs like "heaven's what i feel", "oye" and "feelin'" are finding their way to the dancefloorand not just the dancefloor of studio 54, where la sra. estefan held her release party. the album also includes such gems as "don't stop" (remeniscent of the weather girls' "it's raining men") and "don't release me" (in which gloria meets hip-hop refugee wyclef jean both in the studio and on the dancefloor).
a woman of undeniable conviction and strength, gloria estefan has perservered through life's more challenging moments with dignity and grace. with her voice, she has shattered culture and gender lines across the globe and built a rock-solid career from a foundation of poverty and insecurityall the while caring for a thriving family. she has given people a role model who is not blond, not white, not cheap. a strong, intelligent cuban-american woman who balances family and career with compassion and love, gloria estefan is truly deserving of the title of diva.