Gloria Estefan is a Cuban American woman who broke down boundaries and changed the music industry forever. Both her music and her story have deeply impacted me, inspiring me to give 100% of myself to both my art and everything else in my life. I have always been amazed with her ability to balance motherhood, a successful career, and the challenges that life has thrown her way; I aspire to one day hold some of these qualities myself.

I live in a household that has always been full of music of all kinds and cultures. All four of my grandparents are artists — two even met at music school. My grandma was an aerobics instructor, and she is the one who introduced me to Gloria Estefan. She used this music in her classes and found it to be a hit with many people here in America. The range of both Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine is truly impressive. They have songs for any occasion and mood, allowing them to be listened to frequently. 

I had a chance to see “On Your Feet! The Musical Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan” with my grandparents and was moved by the humanity demonstrated on the stage. This show inspired me to learn more about Estefan’s background. I have always connected with her songs and learning more about her life has only increased my admiration for her. Created under the guidance of both Gloria and her husband Emilio, and complete with many of my favorite songs, “On Your Feet!” depicts Estefan’s fascinating life story.   

When researching her further, I learned that Gloria Estefan was born in Havana, Cuba in 1957 and fled to the United States as a result of Communist dictator Fidel Castro rising to power. Estefan’s father was captured as a political prisoner. Estefan told CBS News that she remembered visiting him in jail with her mother and grandmother. I can imagine that this was very hard as a young girl. He was later arrested again, as he was a part of Brigade 2506, a group of refugees from Cuba that had conducted a failed invasion of the Bay of Pigs. 

Following her father’s release from prison, he moved back to the United States and enlisted in the army. However, after returning from Vietnam, her father was not the same. He had been exposed to Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide that made him very sick. In an interview with the Guardian, Estefan stated: “He started losing his ability to speak as well as his decision-making skills, and he would forget that he couldn’t walk and would stand up.” As his primary caregiver at just the age of 12, Estefan spent a lot of time at his side. It is challenging to remain optimistic while watching people deteriorate in front of your eyes, but having a positive attitude can make it easier for them. Gloria  turned to music to help her cope with this difficult situation. I think this is a very admirable quality. Channeling emotion into art has always been very helpful for me as a dancer and, as I listen to Estefan’s music, I can hear her humanity. Allowing herself to be vulnerable through song has allowed her to feel heard and understood as she explores a range of emotions similar to mine. 

Gloria met Emilio Estefan as a teenager. He was leader of the Miami Latin Boys, a band with no lead singer. When he heard her sing he was immediately taken and soon after asked her to become the lead singer for their band. In the “On Your Feet! The Musical Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan” musical, 17-year-old Gloria was depicted as nervous to take this chance, and I can empathize with this fear of the unknown. As a college student, opportunities are often daunting, and I am very glad that this risk worked out for her. Sometimes taking a step in a new and unfamiliar direction can be harder than facing a known challenge. 

As Estefan was still a full time student at the University of Miami at this time, she was only able to sing nights and weekends. It is often very difficult to find a balance between succeeding in school and putting as much of yourself into your extracurricular activities as you want to. After a year and a half of Gloria being a member of the band, they changed their name to the Miami Sound Machine and recorded their first record with a local label, a very exciting opportunity for all of the members of the band.

A highlight of this musical period in my mind is the song “Renacer.” I could listen to this song forever — the lyrics blending together like rich melted chocolate. The word renacer translates to “be reborn,” referencing the feeling of coming out of a time of wandering and uncertainty into an era of love and happiness. This song feels so sincere; it is clear that Estefan is singing from her heart.

During this same period of time, the relationship between Gloria and Emilio became more than just a professional partnership, something that I believe is reflected in the music released congruently. They were married in 1978 and proceeded to have multiple beautiful children together. I admire how happy the couple still is today, demonstrating that unity and commitment can overcome hard challenges. 

As their relationship grew, the Miami Sound Machine went on to sign a contract with Disco CBS International by 1980, the Miami-based Hispanic division of CBS records. Over the next two years, the band recorded many albums with songs consisting of sambas, ballads, pop, and disco. These albums were all recorded fully in Spanish and produced dozens of hit songs around the world. However, none of these songs became particularly popular in the United States.

The band released their first English album in 1984, called “Eyes of Innocence.” Specifically, the single “Dr. Beat” went right to the top of the dance charts in Europe. This increase in popularity caused CBS to make a big switch, shifting the band to Epic — a parent label. This success caused the band to become more interested in creating music with English lyrics — the songs that ended up becoming some of their most popular.

“Eyes of Innocence” played a large role in both Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine bridging cultural barriers through the use of fabulous music. They combined Latin inspired beats and instruments with English lyrics and rhythms seen in American pop music, creating songs that appeal to a very broad audience. My personal favorite song on this album is “Dr. Beat,” a popular opinion among Miami Sound Machine fans. As a dancer, I find this song very easy to count due to the steady rhythm from start to finish. The energy of this song is unmatched by any other on the album, as it makes everyone want to dance. I also really enjoy the “Eyes of Innocence” song “When Someone Comes Into Your Life.” While this slow ballad is very different from the album opener “Dr. Beat,” it has a beautiful flow, the perfect backdrop for romance and relaxation.

The album “Primitive Love” was released in 1985, once again breaking records while infusing Latin tones into pop music with English lyrics. The song “Conga” spent 27 weeks on the billboard top 100 chart, and is another personal favorite of mine. This song, encouraging people to get up and dance, is a hard one to ignore. This strong call to action had people all over the world on their feet. 

The album “Let It Loose” was released in 1987, once again producing many hits. This album is my favorite and the one that I find myself turning on the most frequently. My two favorite songs on this album are “1-2-3” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You.” Specifically the introduction to “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” has such a recognizable sound — one that I really enjoy and have not heard paralleled by any other artist. 

Through this growth in popularity, it became clear that Estefan was loved and admired  by many, including my grandma. The deep admiration and the connection that the public felt to Estefan led to the band eventually being renamed to just Gloria Estefan.

Estefan made sure to never stray too far from her Cuban roots. The album “Cuts Both Ways,” released in 1989, has songs in both English and Spanish. Estefan worked on this album in many ways including producing, composing, and songwriting. I admire the amount of passion that she puts into her music, continuously made clear by her involvement in every step of the process.

While music focused, family has always come first for the Estefans. Emilio stepped back from his position as the keyboard player for the Miami Sound Machine after the birth of their son Nayib. He instead worked as a producer, manager, and promoter while being a stable parent during the periods of Gloria’s tours. I believe that these actions demonstrate what a strong partnership should be like. I often see partners as branches of the same tree, often having to bear more weight or support each other when the pressure is too much. I think that they are a prime example of what it means to work together, understanding that the work is not always equal, and stepping up to balance out the other. This idea of companionship has been demonstrated many times during the long marriage of the Estefans.

On March 20, 1990, the tour bus was in a major accident with a tractor-trailer on a snowy day. Emilio, Nayib, and Gloria all suffered from injuries, with Gloria’s being the most severe as a vertebra in her back was broken. This injury took both surgery and intense physical therapy to recover from. Estefan’s first performance after recovery was the American Music Awards in Jan. 1991, followed by a year-long tour in March that was centered around the release of her new album “Into The Light.” In “On Your Feet! The Musical Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,”  Gloria explained that fan support and fan mail was what inspired her to recover as quickly as she did. Knowing that people she had never met looked to her as a role model showed that she had to keep going. I see obstacles that people jump over as the most reflective element of their character. Even though I do not know her personally, I am proud of how far she has come.

Gloria Estefan
Estefan gives a speech at the Kennedy Center.