Profile: Gloria Estefan


Gloria Estefan – Groundbreaker

When Gloria Estefan’s family fled Cuba more than 50 years ago, her mother was forced to leave something very precious behind: her record collection, consisting of Latin and American pop standards. Luckily, Estefan remembers, her maternal grandmother was able “to send the records, slowly,” to their new home in Miami, “and that’s what I was weaned on — singers like Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin. That was the music of my heart.”

Since becoming a pop star in her own right, Estefan, 56, has been “just waiting for the right moment” to record her own compilation of songbook gems. It arrived about two years ago, when the singer attended a trustee dinner at her alma mater, the University of Miami, and wound up sitting at the piano with the dean of its Frost School of Music, veteran producer and arranger Shelly Berg.

While performing the Billie Holiday classic Good Morning Heartache with Berg, “a whole record unfolded in my brain,” Estefan recalls. A few months later, the two met again to begin work on The Standards, featuring long-beloved tunes ranging from Young at Heart and What A Difference A Day Makes to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar and the tango El Dia Que Me Quieras.

Estefan sang and wrote lyrics in different languages for several tunes, among them Quieras, which had been her wedding song. She crafted the first-ever English translation;  The Day You Say You Love Me.

“I wanted to do songs that were special to me, that I had a connection with, but to add another layer,” she says. That came naturally with Quieras, as her first grandchild, Sasha (by son Nayib), was in the studio when she recorded it. ” I actually sang a couple of tracks while holding my grandson.”

Another family member, Estefan’s 18-year-old daughter, Emily, was a more constant presence during the sessions. “She’s an amazing musician, and while she was there we found out she had been accepted to Berklee,” the renowned music college in Boston. “When I sang Embraceable You, for me, it was all about her — knowing that she was going away. It was very emotional and bittersweet.”

Also present in the studio were Italian singer/songwriter Laura Pausini, who joins Estefan on a Spanish reading of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile; classical violinist Joshua Bell, who appears on The Day You Say You Love Me, and Dave Koz, who plays saxophone on The Way You Look Tonight and How Long Has This Been Going On.

Estefan had “sorted through a couple thousand standards” before deciding on the album’s final lineup. “It got really tough after we had whittled it down to 25. But you know, we can always come back and do that later, on another album. I’m ready — I even have a title picked. I don’t want to give it up yet, but it’s really cool.”

The singer-songwriter first made a name for herself in the 1980s with the Miami Sound Machine, and in 1989 she reached new heights as a solo artist. Now, 27 albums later, she has become the most successful Latin-crossover performer ever, with sales topping $100 million.

Estefan had thought of doing this album many years ago when she performed Good Morning Heartache on the The Tonight Show for Johnny Carson, but she didn’t want to start a project on classic songs then because she felt that she needed more life experience before it felt right. Estefan felt that these standards had a lot of “nuance and elegance” that needed to be communicated.

“It’s good to understand what you’re singing about and also to feel good in your own skin,” said Estefan. “To be comfortable and be relaxed to do your own take on it.”

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