20 Questions With Gloria Estefan Ahead of Her Induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame

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When Gloria Estefan becomes part of the Songwriters Hall of Fame this Thursday (June 15) in New York, it will be a historic moment for the Hispanic community in the United States.

“Gloria is the first female Latina to be inducted into the SHOF,” confirms Linda Moran, the organization’s president/CEO, to Billboard. She will be honored alongside one of her favorite musicians, Glen Ballard, as well as Liz Rose, Jeff Lynne and Teddy Riley.

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Since rising to stardom in the 1980s as the lead vocalist for the Miami Sound Machine — alongside her husband, visionary producer Emilio Estefan — Gloria Estefan has helped infuse Latino flavor into English-language pop music, breaking barriers with hits like “Conga” and “Rhythm is Gonna Get You,” and singing at the same time en Español.

On the charts, she has placed 29 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, including three No. 1 hits (“Anything For You” in 1988, “Don’t Wanna Lose You” in 1989 and “Coming Out of the Dark ” in 1991) — as well as 30 hits on Hot Latin Songs, 15 of which reached the top spot (from “No Me Vuelvo A Enamorar” in 1986 to “Hotel Nacional” in 2012).

With credits that also include “Words Get In The Way” and “Let’s Get Loud,” the Cuban-born Grammy- and Latin Grammy-winning superstar has sold over 100 million records worldwide, according to her label, and continues to write and record music. Last year, she released the Estefan Family Christmas album with her family, and most recently she recorded “Gonna Be You” with Dolly Parton, Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper and Debbie Harry for the comedy film 80 For Brady. (Oh, and she also returned to the screen as an actress in a 2022 remake of Father of the Bride, opposite Andy Garcia.)

“It still makes me very happy to write songs, and it’s always a surprise when something comes along,” Estefan tells Billboard Español. “It is nice that it has happened so many times and that it is receiving such an important recognition. As long as I have something to say, you’ll be hearing from me.”

Among this year’s Songwriters Hall of Fame honorees, Estefan is one of three who first rose to fame as part of a group (the others are ELO’s Jeff Lynne and Guy’s Teddy Riley.) She’s also one of two who were born outside the United States (Lynne was born in England.)

This is the latest in a series of important recognitions for the artist, who in 2017 was awarded at the Kennedy Center Honors and in 2019 received the Gershwin Award for Popular Song alongside her husband.

Below, Gloria Estefan answers 20 questions ahead of her induction to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

1. Congratulations on this new recognition. How did you find out?

Emilio. Everyone calls Emilio when they are going to give him good news. First, he is my manager — but he likes to be the one who tells me. He came into the kitchen and I already know [something is going on from] his face. I said, “What is it?” “They’re going to give you the prize.” We have been nominated for several years and you never know. There are many songwriters who deserve this. I’m very happy.

2. As a Cuban immigrant, how do you receive this distinction?

Look, as an immigrant — not so much for me, because I think we came here to do what we love. What this means is that there is the freedom in this country to be able to achieve whatever dream you have. For me, lyrics and music have been something that had me sit with the records and read who wrote everything. I read the lyrics, I absorbed them! It helped me through very difficult times.

So as a young female musician back then, the music of others was my lifeline in difficult times, with my father’s illness [Ed. note: Estefan’s father has suffered from multiple sclerosis since she was a child.] Music has always been the most beautiful thing in my life, so the fact that my songs are that for other people is something really special — it’s a privilege that I don’t take lightly.

3. What was the first song you wrote and what do you remember from that moment?

I did a parody about our lives at my high school alma mater. [Laughs.] I actually did poetry as a kid, but that has to be the first song I ever wrote: a parody of Our Lady of Lourdes Academy. Do you know whose music it was? There was a comedian named Tom Lehrer, and he had all these songs that were funny — but serious, intellectual, they were smart and he had something to say. So I put lyrics about my school in one of his songs. That was my first song. I was 14 or 15.

4. What was the last one that you wrote, even if you haven’t published it?

Just before Thanksgiving. I felt inspired by certain things, I went out and I was with my guitar sitting there in the patio and I did it in about an hour. I really want a country star to sing it for me. It is in English. I still can’t [say what it’s called], but I like it a lot.

5. Which of your songs is your favorite or has a special place in your heart?

What kind of question is that? Do you have any children?

Three, and they are all my favorites.

Ahhh, there you have it. There are some special ones for different reasons. “Con Los Años Que Me Quedan,” I had written that song in English for the album I was working on and it didn’t fit into it. When we were writing Mi Tierra, I told Emilio, “I have a melody that I love that I think would be a tremendous song” — I reminded him of it, because I always play everything for him. And he said, “Oh, and I have the idea of ​​a hook for that in Spanish.” We sat down and rewrote it. That one is special, because it’s the first one we wrote together.

[Also] “Anything For You,” our first No. 1 [on the Hot 100]. It kind of went through me — it wasn’t really thought out, it was like an inspiration of a feeling and it just came out.

6. How is your songwriting process? Do you have any ritual that works for you or do songs just come to you?

When I was in all the hustle and bustle of writing original records, at that time, yes: You’d finish the shows and you’d go into the studio, you’d have to write, you got ready for that. My life was a lot less complicated back then; I just was touring or doing a record, one thing or the other. Now there are endless things that pull you — but look, that song [that I mentioned before] was born naturally.

Every time I write I think, “I will never be able to do it again.” It’s like being pregnant [Laughs.] When you have a baby, you say never again, and then you think, “Wow, this didn’t exist before, how nice to be the vehicle for that.” Inspiration absolutely requires an idea, the hook or an emotion that you are expressing. With each one it is different. There is a craft — which is knowing that I can do this verse better, I can find another way to express this or a better rhyme for it — and there is inspiration, which is 15 minutes.

7. Who have been your biggest influences as a songwriter?

Carole King, as a child. Stevie Wonder. Elton John. The Beatles; I was the biggest Beatles fan. All of them. I admired the novelty of it, like Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, I would listen to it and listen to it and listen to it, and I would read the lyrics and say, “What is this about?” because I was a girl. And it kind of opened my mind. That and Stevie Wonder. Songs in the Key of Life, Innervisions. It’s not that I said “I want to be like them”, it’s that their music touched my soul.

8. How do you enjoy writing more today? Alone or accompanied?

Look, when you are looking for something new, obviously the fusion is spectacular. Me and Diane Warren — she doesn’t write with anyone, she’s lonely, and so am I. I prefer to write alone, because a lot goes on in my head. I always write by hand, because I like to have a big notebook to put all the ideas I’m having — but with her, something else came out, we would bounce things off each other and sometimes we’d end up with a really dirty skit before the song. ¡Ay Dios mío! We laughed a lot, so that was enjoyable. Emilio likes to write down all the ideas, and then I develop them. But I definitely like it better alone.

9. From the Latin music market, who have you enjoyed working with?

[Peruvian singer-songwriter] Gian Marco is spectacular, he’s a poet. I would listen to his songs and say, “Gian Marco, this can sound amazing in English,” and Emilio would give him some ideas. For example, “Tu Fotografía” arose from a photo of Emilio’s parents getting married in Cuba that we had in the living room — and Emilio said that every day, when he saw that photograph and saw his parents, you know, he could see his whole life ahead, and what would happen when he was not there.

Then Gian Marco was inspired. I think we were in the Dominican Republic when we wrote that song, and when he gave it to me, I thought of my [own] father and said, “Your picture.” I have known my father more through photos, in fact, so it is a spectacular collaboration. I admire him very much.

10. As a songwriter, are you more of a morning person or a night person?

Oh, most of my songs have been born between midnight and 6:00 a.m., when my husband is asleep, my children are asleep, no one bothers me. And I think that 3 in the morning is very spiritual cosmically. Most people are sleeping in our hemisphere and it kind of opens the channel of inspiration a bit. But the other day I wrote at 5:00 in the afternoon out there. It was beautiful. There was sunset, it was very windy, but I had the inspiration, so.

11. What song by another artist, in English or Spanish, would you have liked to write?

So many. I always say “Man in the Mirror,” that Glen Ballard worked on with Michael [Jackson] — and he’s also being inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. I really admire his music: Jagged Little Pill [by Alanis Morrissette], I still hear it and go “wow, this is groundbreaking” — and it’s because it’s real, a lot came out from Alanis’ emotion at the time. But the songwriters, they nailed it. It was spectacular.

12. Any contemporary singer-songwriter that has impressed you lately?

There are many. I love Rosalía; I think she sings and has chops and does interesting things. When I’m at home getting ready, I put on pop music, and I love to see that there are so many women [having success right now]. And I love country. It’s hard to point out a singer-songwriter right now, besides Gian Marco who I love. I just did a song for Diane Warren with Debbie Harry, Dolly Parton, Belinda Carlisle and Cyndi Lauper (“Gonna Be You” for the movie 80 For Brady). That was fun.

13. What did you enjoy the most about that experience?

I actually liked the song — I thought it captured the ’80s, that era a little bit, and it’s 80-year-olds in the movie and we were able to collaborate with women who in the ’80s were doing our thing. So, it was interesting. It was good. And to be with Dolly — I love Dolly Parton, I admire her a lot.

14. Is there a perfect song for you?

The only perfect song is the one that moves your soul, makes you cry, or gives you goosebumps. The one that touches someone’s heart or mind. That’s the beauty of music, that there is an incredible variety. I get moved by many genres, many artists.

15. Can you name one song that moves you in particular?

“Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis. It takes me back to a time in my life when I was a little girl, my mother would put the record on and I would sit down and listen to it. Later I bought the record and played it. Johnny Mathis has a voice that means a lot to me in my life, it’s a time.

16. Last year we saw you again as an actress in Father of the Bride, and this year Emilio plays the father of Jeff Bezos in Bezos: The Beginning. Did you give him any advice or guidance for his acting debut?

Emilio shouldn’t be given advice… Jeff Bezos’ father wanted Emilio, and Emilio told him: “I don’t memorize anything, I’m going to say what I want.” [Laughs.] Only Emilio Estefan can do that. He invented his own script, and he did a spectacular job, because it really came from his heart. I tell him jokingly that he’s on the English pill, because all of a sudden he’s speaking perfect English — and I’m like, “What happened?”

17. As part of a family of musicians, what is a typical day like at home? Do you constantly listen to music or do you prefer some silence?

There’s always some news show playing in the kitchen. Emilio watches the news early in Spanish. I listen to music when I’m getting ready, when I’m putting on makeup to go out. Now more than before, because before I had it so much in my life that I wanted silence at home.

18. And what do you listen to?

I use playlists. In Apple Music I play pop, which I really like. I play country, which has songs with very emotional stories. I heard dance the other day; I really like Tiësto, what he’s doing. I like to explore. Music for me it’s more of a mood than a specific artist. I love Pink, I listen to her entire album.

19. Are you going to sing at the Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony? If so, what?

Yes, they told me two songs: One that someone else will sing, and one sung by me. What do you think I should sing?

Well, it’d be nice if you sang something in Spanish, maybe one of the songs you have in both languages, do a verse in Spanish and another in English.

Good idea!

20. If you could sing only one single song for the rest of your life, yours or from another artist, what would it be?

“Mi Tierra.” I didn’t write it, but it touches my heart.

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