Gloria Estefan sings standards on new CD

Singer/musician Gloria Estefan.

Singer/musician Gloria Estefan. (Credit: Jesus Cordero, 2013)

Gloria Estefan knew that to sing standards -- a whole album of them -- requires real life experience. So even though it sort of became "the thing" for pop artists to pop out such albums, she waited. The Havana native, who fled to the United States with her family after the Cuban Revolution, first started singing in the 1970s with the band Miami Latin Boys -- soon to become Miami Sound Machine -- and made a splash in 1985 with the irresistible "Conga."

Since then, she's become one of the most successful crossover artists of all time, winning seven Grammy Awards and selling an estimated 100 million records worldwide. She owns several hotels and restaurants (with her husband, bandmate Emilio Estefan), sits on the board of Univision and is a major philanthropist. Somewhere in there, she managed to raise two kids and survive a near-crippling accident, when her tour bus was struck by a semi-truck in 1990. So now that standards album? Sure, bring it on. "The Standards," a Sony Masterworks release with live orchestra, arranged and conducted by Shelley Berg and featuring violinist Joshua Bell and saxophonist Dave Koz, arrives Sept. 10.

Estefan, who turns 56 on Sunday, took a break from dropping her daughter off at college to chat by phone with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.

Some of the songs here have real meaning for you. Like "Good Morning, Heartache," which you sang after doing "Conga" for your first appearance on Johnny Carson's show. Who knew?

They asked if I could do a second song, but not another original nobody knew. I said, yeah, I do this Billie Holiday song with the band. I did it purposefully -- I wanted people watching to know I wasn't just about the pop tunes.

What song here was most challenging?

Writing English lyrics to our wedding song, "El Día Que Me Quieras." Which translated to "The Day You Say You Love Me." . . . Translating was hard -- to capture the passionate, florid, poetic words and stay true to the metaphors. It's tricky. In Spanish, there's no such thing as a song becoming saccharine because it's overly dramatic. That's just not an issue. But in English, it can be. So it was riding that fine line.

You recorded live, with an orchestra. That's unusual these days. Sadly.

That's what this genre is all about. And being a band girl, I'm used to that. A lot of the way I sing is playing off other musicians. It's what I love to do the most.

I hear you've got a new title -- grandma.

Yes! [She laughs.] My son's baby, Sasha, is great. By the time I was born, my grandparents were older and they couldn't really . . . play with me. I can with Sasha. It's so beautiful to enjoy that.

And your daughter's off to college?

Right now, we're at Berklee College of Music, in Boston, where she'll be studying in the fall. I recorded "Embraceable You" thinking of her going off -- it made that song even more . . . bittersweet. We've been close. She's an amazing musician -- the best of all of us. She plays drums, guitar, piano. And she can sing. She refuses to up to now, but I know it's gonna happen.

Well, hard to blame her. There'll be the inevitable comparisons.

She sounds very similar to me. But I know, it's tough. I gotta tell you, my nature is not to be the center of attention. I would've loved to play an instrument like Emily. When you're a frontman for a band, there's nowhere to hide. It took me a long time to get used to that. But music is my first love. I started singing when I talked. For Emily, since she was 2 or 3, she'd make drum sets from garbage pails and things.

My dad's a drummer, and his sister says the same thing -- his hands were always moving, so they finally gave him drumsticks.

Totally. It's a very difficult instrument. Your four limbs are doing something completely different. I may be musical, but there's no way in hell I could do that. She did it naturally.

Congratulations, by the way. You'll be married 35 years this month.

Seems like yesterday, I swear to you. Maybe because we've traveled so much. Life goes fast, but for us it's been in overdrive.

You and Emilio toured with the kids in tow?

When most artists walk offstage, they go to a lonely hotel room. I went home to my family. They were there before the show, during and after. It's been great. I never would have done it any other way. I wasn't gonna miss raising my kids. There was no way that was gonna happen. So we've been very fortunate to travel as a family. It's kept us grounded.

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