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Born Gloria Fajardo in Havana on September 1, 1957, Estefan was raised primarily in Miami, Florida, after her father, a bodyguard for Cuban president Fulgencio Batista, was forced to flee the island following the 1959 coup helmed by Fidel Castro. In 1975, Fajardo and her cousin Merci Murciano auditioned for the Miami Latin Boys, a local wedding band headed by keyboardist Emilio Estefan, Jr. After they were hired, the group was re-christened Miami Sound Machine. Four years later, Fajardo and Estefan wed. As Miami Sound Machine began composing their own original material, their fusion of pop, disco, and salsa earned a devoted local following, and in 1979 the group issued their first Spanish-language LP on CBS International. Despite a growing Latino fan base, they did not cross over to non-Latin audiences until the single "Dr. Beat" topped European dance charts in 1984.
Primitive Love, issued in 1985, marked Miami Sound Machine's first English-language effort. It scored three Top Ten pop hits in the U.S. alone with the infectious "Conga," "Bad Boy," and "Words Get in the Way." For 1988's triple-platinum Let It Loose, the group was billed as Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine, reeling off four Top Ten hits -- "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Can't Stay Away from You," the chart-topping "Anything for You," and "1-2-3." 1989's Cuts Both Ways was credited to Estefan alone and generated her second number one hit, "Don't Wanna Lose You." While touring in support of the album, her bus was struck by a tractor trailer on March 20, 1990. She suffered a broken vertebrae that required extensive surgery and kept her off the road for over a year. Emilio Estefan and the couple's son were injured in the crash as well, but all three recovered. Estefan resurfaced in 1991 with Into the Light, again topping the charts with "Coming Out of the Dark," a single inspired by her near-fatal accident; two more cuts from the album, "Can't Forget You" and "Live for Loving You," secured her foothold on the adult contemporary charts.
With 1993's Mi Tierra, Estefan returned to her roots, recording her first Spanish-language record in close to a decade and earning a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Album; on the follow-up, 1994's covers collection Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, she also recalled her dance-pop origins with a rendition of the Vicki Sue Robinson disco classic "Turn the Beat Around." Another all-Spanish effort, Abriendo Puertas, earned the Grammy as well, while Destiny featured "Reach," which was named the official theme of the 1996 Summer Olympics. As Latin pop made new commercial headway thanks to the efforts of acts like Ricky Martin and Enrique Iglesias, Estefan reigned as the most successful crossover artist in Latin music history, with international record sales close to the 50 million mark. In 1999, she also made her feature film debut alongside Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart, recording the film's title song as a duet with *NSYNC and scoring both a massive pop hit and an Oscar nomination in the process.
A new Spanish-language album, Alma Caribeña, followed in the spring of 2000. Several months later, Estefan was awarded a Grammy for Best Music Video for "No Me Dehes de Querer" at the first annual Latin Grammy Awards. Her husband, Emilio, won Producer of the Year. In 2003, she released Unwrapped, an English-language effort that was met with a lukewarm reception from consumers and critics. She didn't return with another new album for several years, as stop-gap compilations such as Amor y Suerte: Exitos Romanticos (2004), The Essential Gloria Estefan (2006), and Oye Mi Canto: Los Éxitos (2006) were released from time to time. When she did return, with 90 Millas in 2007, it was with a splash. The Cuban-themed, Spanish-language effort hearkened back to Mi Tierra and was a big hit on the Latin music scene; its lead single, "No Llores," quickly scaled Billboard's Hot Latin Tracks chart, and the album itself was a chart-topper as well. Estefan returned to English-language pop with 2011's Miss Little Havana, a dance-pop album produced by Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes. Estefan went in the opposite direction for her next album, tackling the Great American Songbook on the aptly titled 2013 album The Standards. Following a long tour, she and Emilio took an extended break.
In 2015, the musical On Your Feet, based on the Estefan family, opened and was nominated for a Tony award. Philanthropists and humanitarians, the Estefans became the first couple to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. They have also been graced with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song by the Library of Congress.
With a host of Brazilian musicians and producers, Estefan went through her catalog in 2016. Together they rearranged and re-recorded music and vocals for 14 of her hits, including "Conga," which was retitled "Samba," as well as four brand-new songs. The completed set was temporarily shelved after Estefan's mother died and other life events intervened. In 2017 she became the first Cuban-American singer/songwriter to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. In June 2019, the single "Cuando Hay Amor" arrived at radio and streaming. The full-length Brazil305 was released by Sony in August 2020. In 2022, she returned with The Estefan Family Christmas. ~ Jason Ankeny