Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Accompanying her 19th studio album Unwrapped (2003) was a mini-documentary on the Cuban born, Miami raised Gloria Estefan as filmed by her son, Nayib Estefan. In the documentary, Estefan matter-of-factly commented on the power of music, “Music is a vibration and I think that it has the power to change reality and certain things about our world.”
For Estefan, this couldn’t be more true, as it was music that led to one of those great rock-and-roll moments of happenstance when the then-Ms. Fajardo found herself at a wedding where the Miami Latin Boys were booked. The local group included percussionist/accordion player Emilio Estefan, Jr.―Gloria’s future husband―who also hailed from Cuba. A fast friendship (and romance) ensued between Gloria and Emilio. Soon, with the inclusion of Gloria, the group’s nom de guerre changed to the Miami Sound Machine. Six enterprising Spanish language albums came between 1977 to 1982 before their first two English language breakthroughs transpired. First, they conquered the international scene with “Dr. Beat” in 1984. America fell under their sway shortly thereafter in 1985 with “Conga.”
In addition to liberating (and authenticating) Latin dance aesthetics from the confines of disco and R&B rhythm sections for broader dance pop intersectionality, Estefan also showed herself to be a master balladeer with a steady stream of American AC hits that she wrote and composed. “Words Get in the Way” and “Can’t Stay Away from You” proved to be as compelling as “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” while precipitating her emergence as Gloria Estefan with Cuts Both Ways (1989).
This maneuver promised a recording industry milestone four years later with Mi Tierra (1993). A sumptuous tribute to a range of traditional Spanish language sonics, the record was a global event. In the United States alone, it broke several barriers regarding race and gender. Mi Tierra was the first album to appear at the summit of the Billboard Top Latin Albums chart upon its inception, where it enjoyed a record breaking stay at the pole position for a number of weeks.
In the 40 years since Live Again/Renacer (1977), the first Miami Sound Machine album, Estefan has romanced and grooved the hearts of millions. This 60-track playlist is a celebration of Gloria Estefan―who turns 60 years young today―as an originator and innovator, setting (and maintaining) the standard for both Spanish and English pop the world over.
Note: Gloria Estefan’s 2011 album ‘Miss Little Havana’ was elected to be represented by "I Can't Believe," "Heat" and "Wepa" for this "Portrait of the Artist" installment. Unfortunately, the album is not currently available via Spotify, so these songs are not included in this playlist.