With careers that span more than 34 years there is little to be said about Gloria and Emilio Estefan that hasn’t been said already. Ask them to interview each other and here’s the answer you’ll get:“Oh God, we’ve been asked every question imaginable!”
Their stories intertwined and became one story in 1975, when Gloria and her mother attended a wedding that Emilio’s band was playing at. Emilio asked her to come up on stage and sing, and the rest, as they say… well, no, not quite history. Not conventional history anyway. As Gloria puts it, “When we first met, I thought any guy who can play the ‘Hustle’ on the accordion has to be an incredible guy.” Alas, as they were working together, and Emilio was essentially her boss, Gloria kept it strictly professional.
Not so with Emilio though; “It was the 4th of July and Gloria and I were watching fireworks… I told her it was my birthday (it really wasn’t) and that I wanted a kiss as my present. It was the best “birthday” present I ever received!” he says.
After 34 years, 2 kids, 6 worldwide tours, 24 albums, and hundreds of live performances, their love is still going strong. Love for the music, love for what they do, and most important, love for each other. The secret? Gloria says it’s “honesty, respect and a great sense of humor.” Emilio’s a bit cheekier, “Your wife is always right. And make your mother-in-law your best friend!”
The truth can probably be found somewhere in the middle; or, as in their way…in a song. A song they wrote together one inconspicuous morning in their bathrobes, Con Los Años Que Me Quedan:
Con los años que me quedan
Yo vivire por darte amor
Borrando cada dolor
Con besos llenos de pasion
Como te ame por vez primera…
(With the years I have left
I will live to give you love.
Erasing every pain,
With kisses full of passion
How I loved you the first time…)
While in the beginning they played their music together, these days Emilio prefers to stay behind the scenes, acting as über-producer to some of the biggest artists of our time; Madonna, Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Will Smith for starters. What really excites him though is working with young, unknown talent. “It’s a blank slate that allows you to create a superstar,” he says. A superstar like, perhaps, Thalia? Yes, indeed.
Not that Gloria’s far behind in the working-with-legends department: Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, and the inimitable Celia Cruz, just to name a few. “The only thing I can say,” she says, “Is that Celia Cruz is an icon, a legend, and a friend whose spirit will live in my heart forever.”
In a career spanning so far, so many milestones, so many achievements – from “performing for Presidents, Kings, Queens, Pope John Paul…” to three Olympic Games and several Super Bowls – it is the simple things that give them the most happiness. “With all the success and fame that my career brings, knowing that I have my family unit by my side brings me the most joy,” says Gloria.
There is one moment, though, one achievement, that stands a bit above the rest for Gloria: her performance at the American Music Awards in 1991. It came on the heels of a terrible accident, one that left her with a fractured back and two titanium rods implanted at each side of her spinal column. This was her first performance after being told she would probably never walk again. “It was a moment that was pivotal for me both professionally and even more so, personally,” she says.
The date was March 20, 1990. Gloria, Emilio, and their son Nayib, were on board their tour bus on a stretch of Pennsylvania highway when suddenly, the bus crashed. Premonition, intuition, something, told Gloria that life was about to change before ever boarding that bus: “It was ironic that shortly before the tour, I had an elevator installed in our new home,” she says. “Deep down insideI had the feeling that someday, somehow, that elevator would be needed.”
Emilio helped her through the grueling recovery that followed, refusing to leave her bedside for three months straight, then helping her through the nearly year-long physical therapy that taught her to walk again. “The bus accident taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It gave me a completely different perspective on life and the true meaning of family love and support,” she says. “The outpour of prayer that I received from all over the world was overwhelming. I truly felt the healing energy from everyone. It played a major role in my recovery.”
And then, that fateful performance at the American Music Awards; where she sang, appropriately enough, Coming Out Of The Dark:
Coming out of the dark, I finally see the light now
It’s shining on me
Coming out of the dark, I know the love that saved me
You’re sharing with me…
Spurred on by the accident, and a lifelong hope to one day be in a position to help others, Gloria and Emilio formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation, a foundation with the mission and hope of raising awareness and funds for spinal cord injuries and to support organizations such as the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. They have received many accolades for their charitable efforts, most recently the Jay Malina Award at the 7th Annual Beacon Awards, in recognition of their lifetime achievements and notable contributions to the growth of their industry. Their ultimate goal with their humanitarian work? To one day find a cure for paralysis and spinal chord injuries. “It will happen in the near future. Count on it!” Gloria says.
Don’t doubt her either. This is a woman who, once her mind is set, will succeed. Guaranteed. And, along the way, she’ll touch the lives around her with music and love. One incident in particular has stayed with her: One day, after a concert, a fan came backstage to meet her. “She was wheeled in on a hospital bed and her mother told me that while she was in a coma, she would play her my music every day,” Gloria says. “The moment she came out of the coma, the song ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ was playing. I get chills every time I think about it. To have my music and words empower someone in such a profound way is the reason why we do what we do.”
Music is not the only way she’s making the world a better place. She recently delved into the writing world, with two best-selling children’s books about a bulldog named Noelle. “Both of the Noelle books teach our kids about diversity and showing that what one may perceive as being a weakness or ‘difference,’ in actuality can be our greatest strength.”
At the end of The Magically Mysterious Adventures
of Noelle the Bulldog, Noelle sees,
Everyone gathered around,
she was showered with praise,
And they sang of magical, mystical ways.
Noelle just lit up.
She was bursting with pride.
Her strength and true beauty had
come from inside.
Not that children’s books are where the Estefan’s literary aspirations end. Gloria is currently working on a script about Connie Francis, which she hopes to see on the silver screen soon. It’s a script she’s been working on with Connie herself. “Connie is a woman who possesses such strength and accomplishments that I want the world to know how truly amazing she is!”
The couple also recently released a cookbook, Estefan’s Kitchen, featuring authentic Cuban recipes, many of which play prominent roles in any of their seven restaurants scattered throughout the world.
“They say that music is the way to a person’s soul,” Gloria writes in her introduction to “Estefan Kitchen”, “And food is the way to a person’s heart.” As is
so often the case with any of the Estefan’s endeavors, it all goes back to the heart.
When asked what keeps her going, keeps her motivated to keep creating – what with so many achievements under both of their belts, it’s hard to imagine there are many fields left to master – the answer is easy: The fans. “The fact that my fans are still asking me to create is a gift,” Gloria says. “I am truly honored to still be given the opportunity after so many years in the business.” It is an opportunity that she will not squander.
Is there a lasting message she would like fans to take away from her work? Yes. Of course. And, as befitting a woman who descends from violinists, flutists, singers, and chefs, it always goes back to the art. Or, in this case, the music. From her song, Remember Me With Love:
I know as far as I’m concerned,
With you I’ll always be in love.
But if one day you feel differently,
All you have to do is come to me.
I will let you go so easily, but remember, please remember,
Remember me with love baby, remember me with love
No matter where or when, if you think of me again
Remember me with love…
Gloria and Emilio Estefan:
"A Powerful DUO Doing It All"
Written by Francesca Franco