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Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan is an internationally known singer and one of the leading exponents of the Miami Sound - a fusion of Latin rhythms and international pop.

Born Gloria Maria Fajardo on Sept. 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba, she rose to fame as the lead singer for the Miami Sound Machine. She was 17 and just finished with a Catholic girls' school in 1975 when she sang her first ballad with a then-unknown band called the Miami Latin Boys. The group later became the Miami Sound Machine, with Estefan as its leader.

[Sample songs by Gloria Estefan with iTunes here.]

In the late 1980s Billboard magazine named it one of the most successful pop bands in the country. Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a champion volleyball player in Cuba and a member of the motorcycle escort that guarded the wife of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After Fidel Castro's revolution overthrew Batista's government in 1959, the Fajardos left for the United States. Gloria was 1 year old. Her father participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion that tried to reclaim Cuba from Castro in 1961, but was captured and held in a Cuban jail for more than a year. After Jose Fajardo was released he joined the U.S. Army and moved his family to Texas. He served in Vietnam and came back to Miami in 1968. He suffered from a variety of ailments, including multiple sclerosis that could have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

Gloria's mother, also named Gloria, supported the family. Her daughter took refuge in music, singing for hours. After high school at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in southwest Miami, she began college at the University of Miami. In 1975, after hearing Gloria at a church gathering, a Cuban emigre named Emilio Estefan Jr., invited her to sing with his band, the Miami Latin Boys. She agreed to learn the band's salsa tunes if she could also sing ballads.

The Estefans married after she graduated from college in 1979 with a psychology degree. Their son Nayib was born the next year. (A daughter, Emily, was born 13 years later.) The Miami Sound Machine recorded a few albums, mostly in Spanish, and toured Latin America before rising on the Billboard charts in 1985 with "Dr. Beat," the English-language version of a Spanish song. They followed it with "Conga," a Top Ten Hit that is still a popular number. Other hits included "Betcha Say That," "1-2-3 "and "Rhythm is Gonna Get You."

As the band's lead singer, Gloria Estefan achieved national acclaim and became one of the biggest Cuban-American names in the country. She earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. She suffered a setback in 1990, when she was involved in a bus accident on a snow-covered highway near the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. She shattered two vertebrae in her back, but she eventually recovered.

Gloria Estefan is also known for her community service. After Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, she spearheaded a Hurricane Relief concert which raised $2 million for victims. The Estefan's also campaigned successfully for safer boating regulations after a tourist on a personal watercraft attempted to jump the wake of their boat, but instead flipped under the boat's propeller and was killed. The accident happened in 1995.

Her recordings include two Grammy-winning Spanish albums, "Mi Tierra" and "Abriendo Puertas." She recently released "90 Millas," which updates classic Cuban songs from the genres of son and bolero.

Gloria and her husband Emilio own the company Estefan Enterprises. They currently live in Miami on Star Island.