BORN: September 1, 1957, Havana, Cuba
Gloria Estefan's early years were not easy. Her father Jose was among the Cuban exiles who participated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, the unsuccessful attempt to oust Castro from power. Jose spent a year and a half in a Cuban prison, and during this time Gloria and her mother lived in a Cuban ghetto near the Orange Bowl in Miami. Misfortune continued to follow her dad. He was badly poisoned by the defoliant, Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. When her mother went out to make a living, Gloria had to act as nurse and tend to her invalid father. Her one source of comfort was the guitar she had been given when she was 12. She would sing to herself the Top 40 tunes of the day, alone in her room for hours on end.
In 1975, at the urging of her mother, Gloria sang some songs at a wedding which was being entertained by a local party band, The Miami Latin Boys. The band leader, Emilio Estefan, was so impressed by her smooth alto voice that he hounded her to join his band. She reluctantly agreed, but only to sing on weekends. No longer all boys, the band was rechristened The Miami Sound Machine.
That was the start of MSM's rise to fame. By 1983, the group was well known throughout Central and South America and had produced four albums for a major label, CBS Discos. Then in 1984, Emilio convinced record executives at Epic to release an English only album (Eyes of Innocence) to the US and European markets. The first single, Dr. Beat, became a huge hit on the dance charts. The crossover worked! The next album (Primitive Love) solidified their success. From this album came the single "Conga!" which carried with it a unique distinction. It is the only song in history to appear on Billboard's Pop, Latin, Soul and Dance charts all at the same time.
Tours, awards, fame, fortune and good luck followed in a steady stream. That is until the morning of March 20, 1990. As Gloria slept in her tour bus which had stopped along a Pennsylvania Interstate highway, a speeding semi-truck smashed into it from behind. She knew immediately that her back was broken. A delicate surgery was performed that required two 8-inch titanium rods to be placed on either side of her spine. The operation was a success. She needed 400 stiches to close the 14-inch incision. But within one year of the accident she was performing on stage again. During that time of excruciating pain, Gloria received thousands of letters, telegrams and floral arrangements from well wishers. In 1992 she was able to return the favor by organizing a benefit concert (Hurricane Relief) which raised three million dollars for the victims of Hurricane Andrew.