In honor of Women’s History Month, we continue to recognize the economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential immigrant and refugee women who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today we honor award-winning Cuban American singer Gloria Estefan.
Gloria Estefan was born Gloria Fajardo on September 1, 1957, in Cuba. Her father, Manual, a soldier and bodyguard of the president of Cuba, fled the country with the family when Gloria was a toddler following Communist dictator Fidel Castro’s rise to power.
After the family arrived in the U.S., the CIA recruited her father into a covert team of Cuban refugees involved in the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Following President John F. Kennedy’s successful negotiations to release the captured soldiers, Castro released them. He later joined the U.S. Army and served in Vietnam.
Gloria expressed her creativity in her youth by writing poetry and taking guitar lessons. She cared for her younger sister and sick father after he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, while her mother worked to provide for the family and took night classes. During these trying years, Estefan sang for hours in her room as an emotional release.
She met keyboardist and future husband Emilio Estefan in 1975. He asked her to join his band as lead singer. Soon after, they renamed the band the Miami Sound Machine and recorded the album Renacer, a mix of pop disco and ballads sung in Spanish. They signed a contract with CBS and succeeded in Spanish-speaking countries with multiple hits worldwide.
CBS shifted the band to its parent label Epic and encouraged members to write songs in English. The group’s energetic dance song Conga became the first single to place in Billboard’s Latin, Dance, and Black charts concurrently. Gloria became the group’s star attraction and sang on a run of hit singles, including Anything For You, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You, Words Get in the Way, and Bad Boys.
Estefan staged a triumphant comeback after suffering broken vertebrae in a 1990 tour bus accident. Following extensive physical therapy, she returned to the stage and completed several successful tours, including her celebrated 1996 Evolution tour.
Gloria Estefan has been awarded a plethora of accolades during her illustrious career, including seven Grammy Awards. In 2017 she was named a Kennedy Center honoree. Billboard lists her as the third most successful Latina and 23rd greatest Latin artist of all time in the United States of America. Estefan gained her U.S. citizenship in 2006. In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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