Gloria Estefan’s amazing career hasn’t been without adversity, but a determination to live a healthy, balanced life filled with love keeps her star on the rise.
Gloria Estefan has sold an estimated 100 million albums worldwide and has been called the most successful crossover artist in Latin music. She is currently working on her Broadway musical, “On Your Feet,” which features Estefan’s life story set to her own music. She describes it as an immigrants tale of achieving the American dream and the love behind her passage to fame.
That journey to superstardom, first as the voice behind Miami Sound Machine and later as a solo artist, had reached new heights in 1990 as Estefan embarked on a tour in support of the best-selling album “Cuts Both Ways.” On a snowy March night in Scranton, Pennsylvania, her tour bus was struck by a semi-truck, fracturing her spine and putting her in critical care, unable to move. Estefan’s life had been changed forever, with no guarantee that she would walk again, let alone perform.
The road back
After two titanium rods were implanted in her spine to stabilize it, Estefan remained positive, although her doctors grim prognoses concerned her family. Estefan’s appreciation for her fans grew to an entirely new level following the accident. She remembers feeling their worldwide prayers and truly believes that they are what made her recovery possible. “I felt people’s prayers like a physical energy,” she says. “It was electric. I felt like I was plugged into the wall and I used that in my recuperation. When I was in the hospital, I would lay there and imagine people’s prayers and good thoughts, which I felt around me going into my back.”
In the peak of her physical health at the time of the accident, Estefan is thankful for the strong muscles in her back holding onto that last millimeter which could have completely severed her spinal cord. Recovery from the accident required 6-7 hours per day of grueling physical therapy and a tremendous mental focus. “It was very small steps that I would take each day and I realized even though I had a long-term goal, what I really had to do was focus on what I could do that day,” she says. I knew if I didn’t do anything, I was going to go backwards. I had to start from scratch. I would visualize my nerves reconnecting. I would pour all the love that was coming my way into where I thought I needed it the most at that moment.”
Estefan’s intense focus and the support that flowed from her husband, Emilio, and legion of fans worldwide led to a complete recovery. Within a year, she was back fulfilling her life’s purpose—making music and performing.
As a child in Miami, Estefan grew up in a musical family with Cuban roots and singing came naturally to her. When she wasn’t entertaining her mother and grandmother, Estefan was locked away in her bedroom with her guitar—she never required a big audience or to be the center of attention. Music began as a hobby and then a place of emotional escape from taking care of her sister and wheelchair-bound father, a former Army major who suffered from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.”Music has a healing force,” she says. “Most definitely. It got me through some tough times. It was my way of expressing my pain, my difficulty, and everybody’s else’s music was always very healing for me.”
Gloria met Emilio at the age of 17, and soon after, Miami Sound Machine was formed. At that time, Gloria never dreamed music would become her career; she was 19 and college was her priority. Still, she was drawn to Emilios positive energy and grew to admire him professionally and personally. Despite an obvious chemistry, they were hesitant to start a relationship for fear that if it didn’t work, the impact would be felt in many facets of their lives. But their connection could not be prevented. “It just happened. We were destined to be together,” she says. “We are very different in personalities but in the things that count, our values, our morals, our priorities, we are on the same page. We have been a partnership all the way through. Every step of the way,” says Estefan.
Even while they grew as musicians and partners, it seemed as if all doors were shut to their musical style. Gloria and Emilio stayed strong and focused, because they knew the multicultural audiences they played to loved their music and their unique sound. “Everyone was saying to us that we were too American for the Latins and too Latin for the Americans, that our sound wasn’t going to be able to compete on the world level, that people weren’t ready for who we were and that we should change it,” she says. “We were very clear that the people who were in the way or saying to us, No, this isn’t going to work, they were just following a formula that we knew we could break.”
Together they broke barriers in the music industry and paved the way for future crossover Latin artists. “In giving a hand to a young up-and-coming artist, a Latino artist, and saying to them, ‘Yes, of course you can and there is a whole market out there for you and there is a whole world waiting for your music,’ it was for us very fulfilling and still is,” says Estefan.
Health & happiness
In addition to the love and support in her life that provides daily inspiration, Estefan’s devotion to health and a focus on balance are the keys to her personal well-being. In her diet, she strives to make nutritious choices, control her portions and consume healthy grains and vegetables. Estefan works out religiously and enjoys Pilates and the elliptical machine, but is no dictator when it comes to her regimen. “You try and do things in moderation, and that way you can enjoy things forever because if you take things to an extreme, then you have to end up cutting things out altogether,” she says. “I just try to balance things out.” Estefan has also maintained her energy through the years with positive thinking. “I think that your physical nature reflects how you feel,” she says. “I’m a very happy human being so it starts with that. I feel blessed.”
A proud grandmother at the age of 57, Estefan cherishes every moment; as a parent, she knows that time passes quickly. Her hotel and restaurant investments continue to thrive, and she prioritizes time for philanthropic work. With “On Your Feet” set to open in fall 2015, her musical impact is still being felt. To this humble woman, family, love and the support of her fans is deemed her biggest blessing.
Asked what message she would communicate to her younger self, she says, ” ‘Chill out!’ It’s all going to be fine. Nothing is ever as important as it seems. Nothing. Other than your health and your family, nothing else matters, really. Just the love you give other people while you are here. Just be in the moment.”