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Gloria Estefan: Singer, Songwriter

Accident Changed Life

On March 20, 1990, Estefan was on a tour bus near Scranton, Pennsylvania, bound for a concert in Syracuse. The singer was stretched out on a bunk, asleep, while the bus was stopped in traffic backed up behind a jackknifed truck, when a truck plowed into the back of the bus. Estefan was thrown from her bunk and slammed into the middle of the bus, breaking her vertebrae. Emilio and Nayib, who was nine at the time, suffered minor injuries. She was rushed to the Scranton Community Medical Center, where doctors stabilized her back, and then she was flown via helicopter to the Hospital for Joint Diseases Orthopaedic Institute in New York City, where surgeons used titanium rods to align her vertebra and fuse them.

Months of difficult recovery followed, and Estefan underwent endless hours of physical therapy for over a year. At first, she had great difficulty with even simple tasks, such as brushing her teeth, but she persevered against the pain. In an interview with Patti Davis of Living Fit magazine, Estefan explained that she continued to strive "Because I had studied psychology. I understand the stages. You have to go through the depression, the crying. Then, at a certain point, I pulled myself up and said, 'Okay, no more. You can't continue this way.' I wasn't going to end up in a wheelchair. I had seen my father confined to a wheelchair; I saw his helplessness and I didn't want that for myself or my family." Estefan feels that her recovery was aided by the love and support of her family and of the thousands of fans who expressed their best wishes for her recovery with a barrage of flowers, gifts, and notes.

Amazingly, she made her first public appearance only six months after the accident, on the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, to a standing ovation. She had already started writing songs for her next album, Into the Light, and within a year she was on the road, starting on a world concert tour. In 1992 she released a Greatest Hits album, which went platinum.

Estefan continued her dedication to presenting Latin music to the mainstream audience: her 1993 album Mi Tierra (My Land) was entirely in Spanish and was a tribute to Cuban music of the 1930s and 1940s. It was wildly successful, selling nearly 10 million copies, and won a Grammy award for Best Tropical Latin Album. A string of successes followed, including both Spanish and English language recordings. Estefan was the first performer asked to perform a song in Spanish at the 1995 Grammy Awards, where she also received a Grammy for Best Latin Performance for Abriendo Puertas (Opening Doors), a song that was heavily influenced by South American music. She was asked to sing at the Olympic Games in 1996, where she performed her hit song "Reach" to an audience of millions.

In 1998 Estefan performed at the Super Bowl XXXIII half-time show, as well as released the album Gloria!, which mixed Cuban and dance music. That same year, she appeared on VH-1 in the Diva's Live concert with such performers as Shania Twain and Aretha Franklin. In 2000 she received an Award of Merit at the American Music Awards, and in 2001 she released a hit album titled Alma Caribena (Caribbean Soul), which was entirely in Spanish. She also released her second Greatest Hits album, which contains a version of "Conga" remixed by her son Nayib. Also in 2001 Gloria and Emilio Estefan also became the first Hispanics to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame of the National Academy of Popular Music/Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Although she was successful with her music during the early 1990s, the bus accident left Estefan with a lingering health issue. She and Emilio had been trying to have another child with no success; tests showed that her fallopian tube had been injured in the accident. Within a month of surgery to repair the injury, Estefan was pregnant, and daughter Emily was born in October of 1994. Several months later, Gloria and Emilio decided to take a break and went boating in Miami. A small boat tried to jump their wake but crashed into the Estefan's boat. Tragically, the driver, a 29-year-old law student, was sucked under the propellers. Emilio dove into the sea and kept the man's head above water while Gloria called for help from her cell phone, but the young student died. The event prompted Estefan to begin a campaign for boating-safely legislation, and she was instrumental in bringing about the passage of a Florida law requiring young boaters to take safety classes.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) BiographyGloria Estefan: Singer, Songwriter Biography - Miami Sound Machine, Accident Changed Life, Declined Pope's Invitation