5 Minutes with Gloria Estefan

September 21, 2013 – Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing seven-time Grammy award winning singer Gloria Estefan for a “5 Minutes with…” feature that will be published in the October 2013 Issue of Yankees Magazine.

Although the interview didn’t take place in time to make it into the second annual Yankees Magazine en Español (this season), it will certainly be published in the 2014 edition.

The interview with Estefan was one that I coveted for a long time because of my admiration for the Cuban-born singer. After a few years of trying to set up the rare one-on-one conversation with Estefan, I finally got the opportunity, thanks in large part to the relentless efforts of my close friend and Yankees director of Latino affairs Manuel Garcia (pictured below with Gloria Estefan, Emilio Estefan and me). Estefan, who was in New York City promoting her 27th album, sat down with me for a half hour at the 3 West Club.

The interview took place in a meeting room that featured thousands of books on United States presidential history. Without a doubt, the “old New York” feel of the hotel and of the mahogany-filled room we were in added to an already unforgettable experience.

In the interview, I asked Estefan about her newest album, The Standards.

“As a child, I listened to Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and Frank Sinatra with my parents and I used to sing some of the songs that are on The Standards to them, as well,” Estefan said. “My father died in 1980, so every time I sing any of those songs, he is on the forefront of my mind. He was a big inspiration for this entire album. Once I chose the tracks for this album, I sang them to my mom. She was very emotional, as was I.”

I was also interested to find out if Estefan could have ever imaged that she would become an international star during the earliest days of the Miami Sound Machine. The largest gatherings that Estefan, her husband Emilio and the rest of the Miami Sound Machine were performing at in the late ’70s were weddings and other private events.

“Back then, I believed that the only place music would have in my life would simply be for fun,” Estefan said. “If someone would have predicted that would go on to sell 100 million albums, I would have told them that they were crazy. If I could have looked into the future and seen myself performing in concert, I would have said, ‘Who is that?’ I’m glad it was a gradual process because in the 10 years before we made it big, I learned how to relax and be myself on stage.”

The most vivid memories I have of Estefan came from documentaries that chronicled her many tours in the mid-’80s. During the heyday of the Miami Sound Machine, it was awe-inspiring to watch Estefan take the stage in front of thousands of fans in every city of the world night in and night out. I have long wanted to ask Estefan about those experiences, and her response was as interesting as I thought it would be.

“When “Dr. Beat” became the No. 1 song in Holland, Emilio and I felt as if we got on a roller coaster at full speed,” Estefan said. “We didn’t get off that roller coaster for 18 years. It was like an explosion of work and excitement. After we created each album, we would promote them for a few months throughout the world. Then, I would come home and begin rehearsing for the next tour for a few months. After that, we would spend 16 months to two years on the road, doing the tour. To be immersed in music like that was heaven. The toughest part was the grueling schedule, and I had to keep myself very fit. I spent two hours in the gym every morning. I tried to sleep as much as I could, and I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol. The biggest reason I was able to tour like that is because my family was with me. Otherwise, I would not have been willing to be away that much.”

Of course, the conversation had to include a question about the song that helped catapult Estefan to become the most successful Latin crossover performer in history.

“Conga came from one of the most infectious celebratory rhythms, which used to be performed on the streets of Cuba,” Estefan said. “We took the Cuban conga and fused it with dance music, which people in America and throughout the world really understand. When we put that song together, it included everything from lyrics to melody and the rhythm underneath. It was one big percussion, and that got through to everyone.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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