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How music brought Gloria and Emilio Estefan together

Gloria and Emilio Estefan have cultivated a successful joint music career spanning decades, though most closely associated with smash hits of the 1980s. The latest accolade added to their collection is the Gershwin Prize of Popular Song, awarded by the Library of Congress. Amna Nawaz talks to the talented couple about how they maintain their relationship and the blessings we take for granted.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Later this evening on PBS, a special honoring Gloria and Emilio Estefan for winning the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Songwriting.

    Amna Nawaz is back with a conversation with that talented couple.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That beat, it is instantly recognizable, sounds from the 1980s that dominated radio and MTV, making Gloria Estefan and her band, the Miami Sound Machine, including her husband, Emilio Estefan, one of the most popular musical acts of the time.

    Breaking through from the Spanish-language genre to number one hits on the Billboard pop charts. Last month, the Library of Congress honored the couple with the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

    The next day, we sat down with the Estefans to learn more about their music, their journey and their relationship.

    How does this work?

  • Emilio Estefan:

    I think it's love, love and respect. Have a lot of respect. Love is absolutely the main thing, respect and communication.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    That, and he makes me laugh every single day of my life.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Every single day?

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Every single day in some ways, sometimes not on purpose.

    (LAUGHTER)

    He makes me laugh.

    No, you know what it is? I think we're a balance. We're very different, personality-wise, but when it comes to the things that are important in a good partnership, is, we have the same values, morals. Our family come first, the priorities.

    We're on the same page. We rarely differ when it comes to business or music. So, if you don't argue a lot, that really makes — makes it for a great, great life and very fast.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You really don't argue a lot? People will find that hard to believe.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    We don't.

  • Emilio Estefan:

    I'll tell you, love is making the other person happy.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Yes, that's true.

  • Emilio Estefan:

    As long as — that's right. That's the secret.

    Sometimes, you don't do things if you think she's going to get upset, and, sometimes, I do things that makes her happy. And I think that's been our secret.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was music that brought you together in the first place.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    It was. They'd been playing around town. They just played for the mayor. So we're all excited. Oh, good, this guy's going to come to give us pointers on how to do this thing.

    So he knocks on the door. We're at my friend's house. And they open the door, and in comes this guy with a giant accordion around, like — and in very short shorts, which made it look like he was naked, because the accordion was covering the shorts.

    (LAUGHTER)

    So I was sitting on the floor. And I remember looking up. And he has great legs. So that was the first thing I saw. It was very nice.

    (LAUGHTER)

    And then, a couple months after that, my mom dragged me to a wedding. I walk in, and there's this band. And everybody's having a blast.

    It's all the — it felt like a scene out of a movie for me, especially because there was a guy playing "Do the Hustle" on the accordion. Hello!

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The guy with the legs.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    It was him.

    (LAUGHTER)

    I didn't recognize him until we kind of bumped into each other in a doorway, and I go, wait a minute, because I hadn't seen him with the band.

    I go, "You're that guy."

    He goes, "You're that girl."

    Then he asked me to sit in with the band that night a couple songs. Then he asked me to join the band that night, but I said no.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What was it about her? Why did you chase after her like that?

  • Emilio Estefan:

    You know something? The first time that I met her, I mean, I just saw her singing. I said, she has such a beautiful voice. So I said: "Why don't you come and sing with us in the band? It will be something totally different," because I love her voice. This is the best country in the whole world. And dreams can come true.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And be rewarded. Between the two of them, they have won three Grammys and three Latin Grammys, stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and, for Gloria, a Kennedy Center honor.

    You know, you said something once in an interview about the first time you met Gloria. This goes back to what you were sharing about her family. You said, when you first met her, that there was a lot of sadness…

  • Emilio Estefan:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    .. in her.

    Where did that come from?

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Well, we left Cuba, my mom and I.

    My dad took us out of Cuba, because he was a police officer. So, when the coup happened on New Year's Eve, he came home to my mom and he said: "We're in trouble. The president just left the country."

    And she told him: "Don't go back." And he said: "I have to go back. I'm a police officer. I can't abandon my post." So then he told my mom: "I have to get you and Gloria out, because this is going to get very ugly."

    So I was alone with my mom, and then my dad — because my dad then went to the Bay of Pigs invasion. He was a political prisoner for two years. So, for those two years, I started playing guitar and singing. I sang since I talk. This was — it just came with me.

    So music was my catharsis. I would — my mom would make me play for her friends, and I would, like, stare at the floor, because I don't like being the center of attention. But when I sang, people would cry, and I would say to my mom, "Why do you make me sing if people are going to cry?"

    (LAUGHTER)

    You know? And she goes: "They're crying because you're moving them emotionally. It's not because they don't like what you're doing."

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have now lived the majority of your lives here.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You were a child when you first came. You were a teenager, right? But you said, we still have an immigrant mentality.

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Yes, we do.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What does that mean?

  • Gloria Estefan:

    He keeps the slippers that are in hotel rooms. He's got a stack of them like this.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Why?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Gloria Estefan:

    You take — you never know.

    He still likes to buy on sale. We don't owe anything. So that kind of thing, where you're always thinking, this could go away, this could go away, you have to be safe, you have to be careful.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You still think that?

  • Emilio Estefan:

    Yes.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You still think this could all go away?

  • Emilio Estefan:

    Yes.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Emilio Estefan:

    They don't pay you.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • Gloria Estefan:

    Everybody has to realize that things can go away.

  • Emilio Estefan:

    You know something? I think, in this country, that people take things for granted. And one of the things that we don't take for granted is freedom.

    I mean, we came to this country not looking for maybe a better opportunity here. We were also looking for freedom. And you know something? Keeping that safe is — really keep your feet on the ground, saying, you know something, we're blessed.

    We have been blessed with our career. We have been blessed with our family. We have the healthy kids. We're happy people. And you know something? We are blessed, and that we are alive and that we made a career in something that we love. That is music.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What a great interview.

    You can see tributes to the couple tonight right here on PBS.

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