on everybody let's do the Conga, I know you can't control yourself any
longer," sang Gloria Estefan in her 1985 hit song "Conga." Apparently she
was right. No one could resist Estefan's Latin rhythm. She became world
soon after the record's
release. But her journey to
stardom had begun
more than two decades earlier when she left Cuba for Miami.
Gloria Fajardo Estefan went to the United States in 1959 on a $21
flight from Havana to Miami. She and her family were Cuban
the island nation after Fidel Castro's communist
dictatorship came to power.
The family arrived with few material goods.
Little did they know that one
day Gloria would be a multiple Grammy award winner, sell more
than 60 million records and become the planet's most successful
Latin music history.
Gloria Estefan was born in Havana in 1957 to Gloria Fajardo, a schoolteacher,
and Jose Manuel Fajardo, a security officer for
former Cuban President
Fulgencio Batista. After arriving in Florida, Jose Fajardo and his family
settled in a working class neighbourhood near The Orange Bowl, Miami's
famous stadium. Jose returned to Cuba to serve as a
tank commander in the
unsuccessful 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion against Castro's communist government.
He was captured, imprisoned in Havana and
released in 1963. After returning
to Miami, he joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Vietnam in 1967.
father returned from Vietnam a year later. Sadly, he was suffering from the
effects of Agent Orange, a chemical that was widely used in Vietnam. He had
developed multiple sclerosis. Gloria was only 11 at the time. She helped
nurse, clean and feed him, until he was put in hospital in 1976. It was
during this time that Gloria says she found comfort in her music, singing in
her room. "Music healed me," she says.
In 1975 Gloria enrolled at the University of Miami and
psychology. Around this time she met Emilio Estefan at a wedding where his
band, the Miami Latin Boys, was performing. He persuaded her to sing two
songs and offered her a job. Gloria accepted and the band was renamed the
Miami Sound Machine.
Gloria graduated with top academic honours. Then, three years after their
first meeting, Gloria and Emilio got married. Her father, Jose, died two
years later - the same year Gloria and Emilio's first child, Nayib, was
born. It was also the same year Miami Sound Machine acquired its first
The Estefans used their
savings and $20,000 of Sony Records' money to
produce the band's next album. Primitive Love reached the top of the music
charts. The band, renamed Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, went
on to record 10 multi-platinum albums over the next 12 years. The Estefans
were able to buy back the rights to their old songs for $25,000. Emilio, who
served as the band's and Gloria's manager from the beginning, repackaged the
music into a compilation album. Five million copies of that album sold in
when the Estefans were at the top of their career,
tragedy struck. In 1990,
while Gloria and her band were aboard a tour bus in Pennsylvania, a
tractor-trailer crashed into the bus. Nayib, then 9, suffered a broken
collarbone. Emilio escaped without serious injuries. Gloria was not so
lucky. The singer's back was broken in two places. She was temporarily
paralyzed. Gloria endured an operation in which two
titanium rods were
inserted in her back
to brace her spine. Her year-long physical
rehabilitation was excruciating and painful. Amazingly, the singer was back
on stage performing less than a year after the accident. Their daughter,
Emily, was born in December 1994.
Today, Gloria and Emilio Estefan are multi-millionaires. Their business
empire includes recording studios, Cuban-theme restaurants, merchandise,
talent management, song writing and television production. That's
accomplishment for someone who still remembers the pain and struggle her
parents went through for a chance at a better life.
Gloria Estefan is living proof that
perserverance, positive thinking and
hard work are the ingredients of success.