How Gloria got back on her feet after tour bus wreck threatened her career
With sassy, infectious Cuban dance beats and heart-wrenching ballads, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine were the soundtrack to the 1980s.
While their pop songs were in everything from ‘Three Men’ and ‘A Baby (Bad Boy)’ to ‘Top Gun (Hot Summer Nights)’ and ‘Stakeout (Rhythm Is Gonna Get You)’, women aimed to recreate the sexy Estefan look by perming their hair and wearing leather trousers.
Over three decades later and diminutive Gloria Estefan still has that charm and star quality that makes people want to start salsa-ing on the spot.
Yet, while seeing her perform live is no longer an option for most people, they do have the opportunity to relive her soundtrack on stage with new musical On Your Feet.
Here Gloria Estefan talks about the show and about her marriage to Emilio and the highs and lows of her career. Gloria is embarking on a tour of the UK – On Your Feet – which uses her music, and that of the Miami Sound Machine, to retell the story of her rise to fame.
And she reveals that t5he Estefans spent a year-and-a-half talking through the script of the musical with writer Alexander Dinelaris, who won an Oscar for film Birdman.
Interestingly, Dinelaris joked
with them that they were a nightmare to write for because “there’s no conflict“.
Gloria’s reaction was: “Really? Let me introduce you to my mother! I loved and adored her but she was very rough on Emilio for the first 12 years of our marriage. She was the protective Cuban mum thinking ‘Gloria’s going off with a musician, is he marrying her for her or for her voice?’
“Alex is a
phenomenal writer and we’re lucky that we hired him before he won the Oscar. As
well as scheduling issues, he’d have been way more expensive!“
Even before Gloria met Emilio in 1975, music was a big part of her life and she recalls her introduction to it: “I was just four or five years old. I was actually quite shy, but music was my love and it would transport me. The old Cuban standards were always playing in our house and I sang as soon as I could talk.”
Later on, as a teenager, it was the influx of British rock that made her heart beater faster. “I remember pulling into a laundromat parking lot with my mother and hearing Ferry Cross The Mersey,” recalls Gloria. “My hair stood on end and I didn’t want to get out of the car, I was so enraptured. That song really is like a Bolero in its rhythm.
bands were listening to a lot of Latin music and The Beatles recorded Besame
Mucho. All that mixing of sounds had a huge impact on me and I had all this
musical vocabulary to draw from.“
It seems like music was always going to be where Estefan made her money and years later, after collaborating with Emilio she remembers telling him “I think we’re gonna be famous and I think we’re gonna be famous all over the world’. She adds, “I believed so strongly in the music and I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I just knew something was gonna happen.“
On Your Feet charts the early
days of Gloria Estefan and has already proved popular in America, ahead of its
UK tour which continues to at least March 2020.
There are famous hits from ‘Dr Beat’ to ‘1-2-3, Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’ and ‘Don’t Want To Lose You Now’ but also one new song written by Gloria with her daughter Emily – ‘If I Never Got To Tell You’. It is saved for one of the more heart-wrenching moments of the show.
The book is brand new to the
English cast, which includes Philippa Stefani in the main role and when asked
how true to life the musical is, she says: “It’s all true, although maybe not always at the moment you see it
happening on stage.” Laughing, she quips: “The only thing that’s not true is Emilio having a six-pack, as he does
in the show. It’s in there somewhere but washboard abs, he does not have.”
It was always Gloria rather than Emilio that attracted attention as a sex symbol, something that the singer says she found hard to deal with it at first. “That was tough for me,” says Gloria. “I never hid the fact I was married and had a kid [their son Nayib] and growing up, I never felt sexy at all. But I learned to embrace what people felt was sexy and that seemed to stem from allowing people to see who I was and how music made me feel. I think that’s a sexy thing, when someone is confident and you can tell they believe in what they’re doing.”
On Your Feet is a glamorous, lively show with big, spectacular numbers for songs Tradición and Conga. Yet while it’s entertaining, it has also seen Gloria receive letters from fans, including many men, saying that it make them cry with emotion.
“That’s the point of the show – to connect with people on a very human level, which is what we’ve always tried to do through our music,” explains Gloria.
“I also love how it surprises people. They go in expecting one thing and they come out feeling everything we’d hoped, which is a connection and having been on an emotional journey.“
It’s not all dancing and fun
as the show charts both the highs and lows of the band including the tour bus
crash that left Gloria with a broken back in hospital. It was in 1990 that a
then 32-year-old Gloria was hospitalised when a truck ran into the band’s bus
on a snow-covered highway in the Poconos mountain region of Pennsylvania in
It was a life-changing moment for Gloria. “It’s strange because I remember more the aftermath than the actual crash,” ponders Gloria. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who have also been involved in accidents and they agree there must be some mechanism in our brains or our spirits where you remember before and after but you don’t remember the actual moment of impact.
“I was awake for it and afterwards, as I lay on the floor, I was in so much pain I was praying I’d faint but I never did. I remember everything except the actual breaking of my back.
“I grew up taking care of my wheelchair-bound father so I knew what my family might have to face with me. I didn’t care about getting back on stage. I just wanted to be independent and walk again.
started getting all these letters from people. They kept throwing the song Get
On Your Feet back in my face.“
After a long career, Gloria has a lot to be proud of but when asked, she says her proudest achievement is staying true to who they were.
“What I tell every young artist is ‘They’re gonna try and change you’“, adds Gloria. “One time they even told Emilio ‘Lose the singer!’ because it was the time of bands with male leads.
“The record company even told Emilio to get rid of the horns and the percussion section. But we said ‘This is who we are’ and we fought to stay true to that.
that we were able to manoeuvre our way into the business without compromising.
I remember saying ‘I can deal with failure if it’s something you really believe
in, but dealing with success when you’re making music you don’t like or that’s
not true to you is gonna be really hard‘.
On Your Feet UK Tour Dates
30 SEPTEMBER 2019 – 5 OCTOBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 0844 871 3022
EDINBURGH FESTIVAL THEATRE
7 OCTOBER 2019 – 12 OCTOBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 0131 529 6000
SHEFFIELD LYCEUM THEATRE
15 OCTOBER 2019 – 19 OCTOBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 0114 249 600
WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE
21 OCTOBER 2019 – 26 OCTOBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 029 2063 6464
MANCHESTER PALACE THEATRE
28 OCTOBER 2019 – 2 NOVEMBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 0844 871 3019
BELFAST OPERA HOUSE
11 NOVEMBER 2019 – 16 NOVEMBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 028 9024 1919
NORWICH THEATRE ROYAL
19 NOVEMBER 2019 – 23 NOVEMBER 2019
BOX OFFICE 01603 63 00 00
CANTERBURY MARLOWE THEATRE
20 JANUARY 2020 – 25 JANUARY 2020
BOX OFFICE 01227 787787
MILTON KEYNES THEATRE
11 FEBRUARY 2020 – 15 FEBRUARY 2020
BOX OFFICE 0844 871 7652
17 FEBRUARY 2020 – 22 FEBRUARY 2020
BOX OFFICE 0844 871 3017
KING’S THEATRE GLASGOW
2 MARCH 2020 – 7 MARCH 2020
BOX OFFICE 0844 871 7648
ABERDEEN PERFORMING ARTS
10 MARCH 2020 – 14 MARCH 2020
BOX OFFICE 01224 641122
WOLVERHAMPTON GRAND THEATRE
17 MARCH 2020 – 21 MARCH 2020
BOX OFFICE 01902 42 92 12
LEEDS GRAND THEATRE
23 MARCH 2020 – 28 MARCH 2020
BOX OFFICE 0844 848 2700
31 MARCH 2020 – 4 APRIL 2020
BOX OFFICE 02380 711811
NEWCASTLE THEATRE ROYAL
13 APRIL 2020 – 18 APRIL 2020
BOX OFFICE 08448 11 21 21
HULL NEW THEATRE
27 APRIL 2020 – 2 MAY 2020
BOX OFFICE 01482 300 306