Estefan Sings The American Songbook — With A Latin Twist Gloria Estefan is about to release her new album, simply called "The Standards." It's a collection of classic Latin and American romantic songs. Cuban-born Estefan speaks with host Rachel Martin about her latest album and her long career.

Estefan Sings The American Songbook — With A Latin Twist

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Gloria Estefan, the poster girl of the Latin music scene in the 1980s and '90s, the frontwoman for the Miami Sound Machine and the singer who made Middle America get up and conga...


GLORIA ESTEFAN: (Singing) Doctor, I've got this feeling inside of me, deep inside of me...come, shake your body, baby, do that conga. No, you can't control yourself any longer. Come on, shake your body, baby...the rhythm is gonna get you tonight.

MARTIN: Now, after nearly four decades in the music business, dozens of albums to her name, this Latin music queen is going in a different direction.


ESTEFAN: (Singing) You made me love you. I didn't want to do it. You made me love you, and all the time you knew it...

MARTIN: This is a song from her latest album. It's a collection of classics, aptly titled "The Standards." When I spoke with Estefan, she said these are songs that have been with her for a very long time.

ESTEFAN: This actually started in my childhood. Because when we came from Cuba, my mom - very musical family - my mom is really the diva. She still sings beautifully. And I was surrounded by music since the day I was born. So, when we came to the States, I was two years old, and although she, little by little, got her record collection here - with Javier Solis, Trio Los Panchos, the greats of Cuban music, like Olga Guillot, La Lupe, Cachao.

Then that was joined by the greats of American music, like Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Henry Mancini, Nat King Cole. This is the music that I grew up listening to in my house, and I still remember staring at those record covers and listening to, you know, the lushness of the arrangements, the orchestra. I was a musician already. I sang since I talked. So, I used to watch Andy Williams and I watched Dean Martin and Dinah Shore and loved when they sang.

MARTIN: Well, let's get into the album a little bit. Let's listen to a song. This one is called "What a Difference a Day Makes."


MARTIN: Is there a story behind this song?

ESTEFAN: Most certainly. October 25th of 1975, I stepped on the stage for the first time with the Miami Latin Boys in my first official gig. And Emilio - it was his band; we weren't dating at the time - he was just my boss.

MARTIN: This is your husband now of many years.

ESTEFAN: Yes, Emilio, my husband of 35 years now, by the way. We did this song in disco because Viola Wills had done an amazing version then. And it was the first song that I sang. But on this record, I didn't want to do the disco version, obviously. I wanted to stay true with the original.


MARTIN: Let's listen to another song from the album, originally a Spanish song that you chose to sing in English. It's called "The Day You Say You Love Me." In Spanish, what's the title?

ESTEFAN: "El Dia Que Me Quieras."


MARTIN: So, I understand this song has particular personal resonance for you.

ESTEFAN: It does indeed. That was our wedding song. Originally by Carlos Gardel, the tango god of Argentina, who passed away in his 30s in an airplane accident. And it was really a big loss for Argentina. This was written in 1920. And when I sang it in the studio, I was holding my grandbaby, who at the time he was born in June and I recorded this in December. So, it became a whole different meaning for me. And those words you just heard were all about him. And that shows how these standards can just continue to grow and evolve and have different meaning, depending on who's singing them and what you're singing them about and where they stem from.

MARTIN: I'd like to take a big step back in time, if you're game.

ESTEFAN: Of course.

MARTIN: The Miami Sound Machine - it was such a successful band in the '80s and '90s in particular. I wonder if you can give us a sense of what it was like back then. Was Latin music a hard sell at the time?

ESTEFAN: We started as a gig band, playing weddings, bar mitzvahs, quinces. And it was for fun. I never envisioned that it would turn into this. I was just such a happy girl to be able to go to rehearsals and be able to sing. I used to play and sing for my mom and dad on my guitar and that was enough. But to be able to have a whole orchestra, to do arrangements. To me, that was the most fun.

So, in Miami we were very fortunate that our audiences were very accepting of both, and that's really what made us so successful, that we could do, you know, a disco tune, a ballad, really romantic, turn around and do a Latin tune. And in Miami, they love that. So, that gave us a lot of gumption and a lot of belief that this sound would really work. And despite the fact that when we started trying to record and put our songs in English, they would say you're too American for the Latins; you're too Latin for the Americans; lose the drums; lose the percussion; change your name. And the fact that we had this fresh, different sound and that we stuck to it is the reason we had success. So, we were very happy that we were our own cheerleaders.

MARTIN: Is it kind of amazing to you that now in 2013 look at all the artists who have come in your wake - Shakira, J. Lo, Selena Gomez, Pitbull - I mean, the list is so long. And you and that group, you paved the way, in a lot of respects.

ESTEFAN: Well, I look at it as opening the door a little further. Because, for me, looking at Carlos Santana and what he did with his bag, you know, like the rock and Latin together, then Jose Feliciano, who refused to change his name, and was - I saw him sing "Light My Fire" on, you know, on the Grammys. And we were so happy when we kind of broke through and opened that door a little further for the ones to come. And that's why it was important for us to really support and help these younger artists, because all we go was no's from everybody - no, no, no, no - and we wanted to give them yes. And, you know, it makes us happy when these things happen.


MARTIN: Gloria Estefan joined us from Miami. Her new album, "The Standards," is out this week. Thank you so much.

ESTEFAN: It is my pleasure.


MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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