On September 1, 1957, a baby girl entered the politically charged world of Havana, Cuba. Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a Cuban soldier and bodyguard to embattled President Fulgencio Batista. Her mother, also named Gloria, was the granddaughter of emigres from Asturias and Logrono, Spain. Baby Gloria was still very young when her family was forced to flee Cuba during Castro’s revolution, landing first in Lafayette, Indiana, then settling in Miami, Florida. Jose joined the United States military, served in Viet Nam, and eventually revisited Cuba as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Gloria attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Miami, and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology, minoring in French. During her college years, Gloria worked at the Miami International Airport in the customs department as an English/Spanish/French translator. She was approached by the CIA during this time as a possible employee, due to her language skills.
In 1976, Gloria met Emilio Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine and they married in 1978. Gloria joined Emilio’s band and during the mid-1980s the Sound Machine produced several Top-10 hits and released an album that went multi-platinum. In 1988, the band’s name was changed to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine; in 1989, the band’s name was dropped and Gloria was credited as a solo artist with the Sound Machine as her backup.
In 1990, Gloria suffered a fractured spine when a semi-truck struck her tour bus. Two titanium rods were implanted near her spinal column and she recovered completely after a year of intensive physical therapy. She later formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries.
Over the years, Gloria Estefan has continued to record chart-topping hits, performed at the 1995 and 1999 Super Bowls and 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, toured the United States and the world, appeared in movies and on television, written children’s books, and become a restaurant and hotel owner. Her awards include seven Grammys, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the Hispanic Heritage Award, the 1993 National Music Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
A musical based on Gloria and Emilio’s life story is in the works. On Your Feet! will share the story “of two people who – through an unwavering dedication to one another and their pursuit of the American dream – showcased their talent, their music, and their heritage to the world.” On Your Feet! will arrive on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre in October of 2015.