Gloria Estefan talks music, her new album, giving back and immigration

Gloria Estefan is one of Billboard Magazine’s top 100 best-selling artists of all time; a seven-time Grammy Award winner who has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. Now, the 56-year-old is back on the scene with a brand-new album.

“The Standards” – which includes great American classics like “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” – reaches out to Estefan’s global fan base with tunes sung in English, Spanish, Italian Portuguese and French, with a few new lyrics written by Estefan herself. She sat down with NBC Latino contributor Jonathan Ruiz to chat about her new project, explain why she supports immigration reform and share why more than ever, she’s thankful to be an artist.

NBC Latino: With over three decades in the music business and countless hits, you have decided to take on the standards, walking in the footsteps of greats like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Why did you decide to move in this direction?

GE: I knew it was a matter of time before I did this – I was just waiting for the right musical idea, because I did not want to just go in and do a bunch of big band charts and sing it. I really wanted to bring something of myself to this. And two years ago, I sat at the piano with Shelly Berg, dean of the Frost School of Music at the Unversity of Miami, my alma mater, at a trustee dinner and we did “Good Morning Heartache” for the people there. You could hear a pin drop and he transported me. Sitting there with Shelley, I got the whole idea for this record. I wanted it to be very personal, very sexy and lush.

NBC Latino: You not only sing songs like “Embraceable You” and “The Way You Look Tonight” from the great American song book, but also Brazilian and Argentinean classics. You really put a new spin on them – what did you try to do differently?

GE: Well, there is going to be a difference since I do have my Latin background as part of my vocabulary, when I am riffing on a melody or something. I have other ideas that pop into my head that may not happen to the average Anglo singer of these songs – it’s always going to sneak in a little bit.

NBC Latino: You’ve always transitioned easily between different music styles. How do you do it?

GE: “It is because each one of these things is a part of who I am. I am not trying things on for size…I love music. I am very musical and I have it in my genes, so I guess that works, but it’s who I am. I am not doing something that is completely weird or strange for me.”

NBC Latino: Both you and Emilio have been involved in numerous charitable causes. It is important for an artist to give back to the community?

GE:  I don’t know if every artist has to give back -for me, it’s a joy to give back. To be of service is the reason I feel I am in this world. I want to be of service as much as I can – it makes me happy to help other people and be useful in some way. Maybe it is a little selfish in some way but it really does make me feel good to do it. I think we are all connected and that all of us should help each other however we can, in our own way. You know, I was almost paralyzed 23 years ago and I was able to be put back together, and for that reason, three of my songs and all the money we make from them we’ve put towards an amazing center for spinal cord research. We are on the cutting edge and we are starting human trials, so those types of things are a no-brainer for me.

NBC Latino: Is it important for an artist to get involved in immigration reform?

GE: We need immigration reform and unfortunately every time there is an election, these issues get drummed up and the politics start getting involved and it is very hard to get anything passed. Look at where we are living now with the debt ceiling, and trying to pass the budget. It would be great, for example, if we had a worker program so that people can come and work here and do the jobs that nobody wants to really do.”

NBC Latino: In this day and age, scandal and the art of being famous seems to be the rule – but you have always been a class act. Any thoughts on fame and today’s young artists?

GE: I don’t know if it has changed that much – if you think back, controversy always sells. There have always been artists that push the envelope one way or another and hopefully it is because artists feel that way and because they want to express themselves. I honestly feel that everybody should do what they feel …and hello, those are the things that we want to watch, see and talk about! I studied psychology and it’s funny because if you think back as human beings, the first entertainment were hangings and people getting flogged, and you think of Caligula’s circus and when they threw the Christians to the lions. Human beings love extremes and that is not going to change.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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