PBS special fetes Gloria and Emilio Estefan
It’s hard, if not impossible, to question Gloria and Emilio Estefan receiving an award for popular music.
The couple’s writing, producing and performing skills have been evident for decades, extending to their story being told in the stage hit “On Your Feet!” They’re given the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in a PBS telecast Friday, May 3 (check local listings). Rita Moreno and Andy Garcia host the program taped in Washington, D.C., and featuring performances by Jose Feliciano, Cyndi Lauper, Il Volo and the Estefans’ daughter Emily. Quincy Jones also appears.
With a career marked by such tunes as “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” Gloria Estefan explains, “Music was what got me through my toughest times as a kid, when my dad was very ill. He came back from Vietnam with Agent Orange poisoning. I would lock myself up in my room and use other people’s songs; I would learn to play them on my guitar and literally cry by myself. I wanted to be strong for my mom, so I have a very deep respect and love for music in general.”
Emilio Estefan recalls, “When I met Gloria, I didn’t even think she would be part of my band. I went to see her because she was singing in a church, and I loved her voice. Then, probably six months later, I was playing a wedding and she came in. I said, ‘Why don’t you play one song with us?’ And I really loved the whole thing.
“I was putting an ensemble together that became the Miami Sound Machine,” adds Emilio. “Combining the base of rhythm, we found this fusion of sounds – and then with a girl singing, I think it was something fresh. We did the first album, and with a small label, we became No. 1 on the charts.”
Previous Gershwin Prize honorees include Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Sir Paul McCartney, Carole King, the team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Billy Joel, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson and Tony Bennett. This year marks the first time the award has been given to a married couple, and to Hispanic talents.
Citing composers George and Ira Gershwin among her influences, Gloria Estefan – a Kennedy Center Honors recipient and three-time Grammy Award winner – notes, “I always try to either inspire or communicate with another person through my songs, whether they be romantic or not, and always from a position of strength and optimism. I’m very conscious of the power of music and what it does.”
So is husband Emilio, though he also knows the power of Gloria. “I really loved the way she sang,” he reflects, “and then I loved her.”
The musical couple is saluted in Friday’s new PBS special “Gloria and Emilio Estefan: Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.”