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Emilio and Gloria Estefan Get Gershwin Prize

The first-ever couple to win Library of Congress honor for popular music talks about 40 years together

Gloria Estefan, and Emilio Estefan speak during the PBS segment of the 2019 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour.

Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images

Gloria Estefan and Emilio Estefan speak during the PBS segment of the 2019 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour in February.

Singer-songwriters Gloria and Emilio Estefan will receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in Washington, D.C., at a musical event Wednesday to be broadcast May 3 on PBS.

“We’ll perform as well,” Gloria Estefan, 61, told AARP. “Up to now, it’s been that other people honor you [at the Gershwin Awards], and then at the end the honoree gets up, like when Tony Bennett did three songs on his own. I would love to collaborate with people and do some duets and, you know, really change it up.” Jose Feliciano, Cyndi Lauper and Quincy Jones also will perform, and Rita Moreno — Ms. Estefan’s costar on Netflix’s One Day at a Time — and Andy Garcia are hosts. Previous Gershwin Prize winners include Smokey Robinson, Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, Carole King and Stevie Wonder. 

The Estefans’ music has won 26 Grammys and put Cuban pop on the map in America. On Your Feet!, the stage musical of their astounding life story up to 1991 — their families fled Cuba’s revolution for Miami, he asked her to sing one song with his band when he played a Florida wedding she attended, and they went on to earn $700 million together — is touring the world. 

It’s particularly appropriate that they won an award named after George and Ira Gershwin because she sang some of the brothers’ tunes on her 2013 Standards album, and in the recording studio sang their “Embraceable You” directly to her husband. Duos have won the Gershwin Prize before — such as songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David — but the Estefans, the first winners of Hispanic descent, are also the first married couple to win the iconic award. When they appeared at the 2019 Television Critics Association meeting to promote the PBS telecast Emilio & Gloria Estefan: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song, the Estefans answered a few questions about their partnership and their music.

Q: You’ve been married 40 years. How? What are the ingredients to successful marriage?

Emilio Estefan: You tell your wife “yes” to everything.

Gloria Estefan: And if you believe that — ha! I think this is a very unique situation, Emilio and I. I didn’t even think I would get married, period, because [of] what I went through with my dad [who died after his health was shattered in the Vietnam War]. They had accepted me in the Sorbonne, in France, to study international law and diplomacy. And then I met [Emilio]. Like my grandma said, he landed in my lap. Now, we’re very different, so it’s a good balance. I keep him, you know, grounded, because he does a million things. If we were both like me, we’d still be sitting on a couch playing guitar. And if we were both like him, we’d be dead of heart attacks by now. We rarely differ on business, rarely differ on anything musical. It helps if you don’t fight a lot.

Q: Do you have a favorite love song to play?

Gloria Estefan: Our wedding song, which I actually got the honor to write in English, a classic by Carlos Gardel, one of the greats of the tango: "El día que me quieras." In English it’s called “The Day You Say You Love Me.” I recorded it on The Standards.

Q: What’s the most psychologically loaded song of yours?

Gloria Estefan: “Cuts Both Ways.” Because it’s talking about ... when we were on the road, a lot of times the tensions get very hot and everybody’s stressed, and I see it a lot with musicians … it’s like sometimes when you’re in love with someone and you kind of can’t be with them, can’t be without them, you’re sharing so many things and at the same time it puts stressors on the relationship. You have to appropriate things that you observed. I can’t make everything autobiographical. 

Q. What’s a recent song of yours you’d love people to hear?

Gloria Estefan: On the album that’s going to be coming out in May, if you speak Spanish I would love for you to hear the Spanish version of “Here We Are.” I think my Spanish friends are going to flip when they hear that because it’s a classic redone. I mean the last [classic] I did was the One Day at a Time theme!