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Gloria Estefan biography

Singer. Born Gloria Fajardo on January 9, 1958, in Havana, Cuba. As a toddler Estefan fled Cuba with her family when Communist dictator Fidel Castro rose to power. Her father, José Manuel Fajardo, had been a Cuban soldier and bodyguard of President Fulgencio Batista. After coming to the United States, Fajardo was recruited into the 2506 Brigade, a Central Intelligence Agency-funded band of Cuban refugees that was involved in the unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. After President John F. Kennedy negotiated the release of the captured soldiers, Fajardo rejoined his family. He eventually joined the U.S. Army and served for two years in Vietnam. As a child Estefan liked to write poetry, and though she took classical guitar lessons, she found them tedious. She had no inkling that she would some day become a popular music star, but music played a very important role for her as a teenager. After her father's return from Vietnam, he was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis, possibly as a result of having been exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange while serving in the army. Estefan's mother, who had been a teacher in Cuba, worked to support the family during the day and attended school at night. Young Gloria was left to take care of her father and younger sister. She had little social life, and because she felt the weight of such responsibilities she turned to music as a release. "When my father was ill, music was my escape," Estefan told Washington Post reporter Richard Harrington. "I would lock myself up in my room for hours and just sing. I wouldn't cry--I refused to cry... Music was the only way I had to just let go, so I sang for fun and for emotional catharsis."

In 1975 Gloria met keyboardist Emilio Estefan, a sales manager for the rum dealer Bacardi who also led a band called the Miami Latin Boys. The band played popular Latin music, but because there was no lead singer, the quartet members took turns singing. A mutual friend asked Emilio to advise Gloria and some friends about organizing a band for a special event. Emilio heard Gloria sing, and when he met her again at a wedding at which the Miami Latin Boys were entertaining, he asked her to sit in with the band. A few weeks later Emilio asked Gloria to perform as lead singer with the band, and she accepted. At first Gloria sang only on weekends, because she was still attending the University of Miami.

A year and a half after Gloria joined the group, by then renamed the Miami Sound Machine, the band recorded its first album for a local label. Renacer was a collection of disco pop and original ballads sung in Spanish. Although Estefan was somewhat plump and very shy when she joined the band, she slimmed down with a rigorous exercise program and worked to overcome her natural reticence. After several months on a professional level, Emilio and Gloria's professional relationship turned personal, and in September 1978, they were married. Their son Nayib was born two years later, about the time that Emilio quit his job at Bacardi to work full-time with the band, then made up of bassist Marcos Avila, drummer Kiki Garcia, keyboardist, arranger, and saxophonist Raul Murciano, keyboardist Emilio, and soprano Gloria. By 1980 the group had signed a contract with Discos CBS International, the Miami-based Hispanic division of CBS Records. Between 1981 and 1983 the Miami Sound Machine recorded four Spanish-language albums made up of ballads, disco, pop, and sambas. The Miami Sound Machine first met with success in Spanish-speaking countries. The group had dozens of hit songs around the world—particularly in Venezuela, Peru, Panama, and Honduras—but enjoyed little recognition in the United States. The Miami Sound Machine's first North American hit was from the band's first English album, Eyes of Innocence. The disco single "Dr. Beat" went to the top of the European dance charts. The song's popularity prompted CBS to move the group to Epic, a parent label, and inspired group members to write songs in English, first with a couple of numbers on the otherwise Spanish-language record Conga. The rousing dance number "Conga" itself became the first single to crack Billboard's pop, dance, black, and Latin charts simultaneously. Estefan and the group, the membership of which has changed over the years, pride themselves on the combination of Latin rhythms, rhythm and blues, and mainstream pop that makes up their hybrid sound. In 1986 the album Primitive Love, the band's first recording entirely in English, set off a string of hit singles. "Bad Boys" and "Words Get in the Way" made their way onto Billboard's Top 10 pop chart. Behind the scenes was the work of the trio known as the "Three Jerks" producer/drummer Joe Galdo and his partners Rafael Vigil and Lawrence Dermer—who wrote, arranged, and performed the majority of the music on Primitive Love and the follow-up album, Let It Loose. As a band, the Miami Sound Machine developed a split personality.

In the studio the "Three Jerks" and session players made records, and for concerts the road band, which included Garcia and Avila, performed. Estefan was the common denominator. Extensive tours, concerts in 40,000-seat stadiums, and music videos on MTV and VH-1 made the Miami Sound Machine a leading U.S. band. Estefan gradually became the star attraction, and the act came to be billed as Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine or sometimes simply Gloria Estefan. Some commentators on the popular music scene called Estefan a demure, Hispanic version of Madonna. After the Let It Loose album, Galdo and friends quit working with the Miami Sound Machine, so the band was on its own creatively. Early in its evolution, the band's biggest hits were rousing dance numbers, but by the end of the 1980s it was Estefan's ballads that engendered its success. From the Let It Loose album the singles "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Betcha Say That," and "1-2-3" made it to Billboard's Top 10 list, but it was the ballad "Anything For You" that topped the charts. Despite the group's popularity with English-speaking listeners, the Estefans have not forgotten their roots. There are always Spanish-language projects in the works, and the title of their 1989 album Cuts Both Ways attests to their intention to live up to their international reputation. Estefan contributed to Cuts Both Ways in more capacities than as just the lead singer. She was involved in its planning and production, composed some of the music, and wrote lyrics to most of the songs. The rollicking salsa finale "Oye Mi Canto" ("Hear My Song") rivaled "Conga" for its appeal. Emilio Estefan relinquished his position as keyboardist with the Miami Sound Machine after the birth of son, Nayib. He then devoted his considerable energy and managerial talent to promoting the band and the other enterprises that were to eventually make the Estefans producers of their own and others' records. While Estefan toured with the band, her husband ensured that Nayib would have at least one parent at home. A close family, the Estefans would arrange to meet as often as possible during tours. While traveling together on March 20, 1990, the band's bus was involved in an accident with a tractor-trailer on snowy Interstate 380 near the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. While Nayib suffered a fractured shoulder and Emilio received minor head and hand injuries, Gloria suffered a broken vertebra in her back. In a four-hour operation several days later, surgeons realigned Estefan's spine and implanted steel rods to buttress the fracture.

With a prognosis for complete recovery doubtful, Estefan retired to her home on Star Island, near Miami, to begin her long recovery. Thanks to extensive physical therapy, intense determination, and the support of her family and fans, Gloria Estefan made what many consider a miraculous comeback. She marked her return to performing with an appearance on television's American Music Awards in January of 1991, and beginning in March, she launched a year-long tour to tout her comeback album Into the Light. During the next four years Gloria released four albums and embarked on a world tour. The albums alternated in style from Latin to pop. After recording the platinum album Destiny in 1996, Gloria began a high-tech world tour called Evolution. Each show commenced with a suspended globe moving above the audience from which Gloria emerged. The $14 million in receipts from the North American leg placed it as the 24th highest grossing tour of 1996. In 1998 Gloria continued to combine pop, dance and Latin rhythms in her 12th album, gloria!. She also performed on the VH-1 concert special, Divas Live along with Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Shania Twain, and others. The concert raised money to fund music education in elementary schools. Inclusion in this event affirmed her position among the top female singers in the music industry.

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