Super producer Emilio Estefan brings his story home to Miami with this month's smash Broadway hit On Your Feet!
Emilio Estefan on stage at the Ziff Ballet Opera House.
The list of successes and accolades for Emilio Estefan Jr. seems endless. There are the 19 Grammys, multiple Super Bowls and Olympics produced, many music careers launched and a Presidential Medal of Freedom that he can hang around his neck. He’s also a best-selling author, hit Broadway show producer, restaurateur, real estate mogul and movie producer. His studio is packed with awards and film posters (he produced songs for Top Gun and The Little Mermaid—who knew?), and his résumé seems so surreal that when he tells you he is one of five people in the world with ownership in Bacardi—stock he says he bought 40-some years ago after his dad won the lottery 27 times—you kind of just have to believe him.
There is a lot for Estefan to revel in, but these days as he sits in his studio office, where the lobby has a meditating Buddha and incense burning, it’s the simple things in life that bring him joy. Currently, he’s got a black Adidas track jacket that he’s pretty stoked about. “I bought this jacket the other day and I said, ‘Oh my God, I have a brand-new jacket, I love this for the studio,” he says as he sips Cuban coffee. “I still get excited about little things. Gloria says I’m like a kid.”
His superstar wife, Gloria Estefan, has known the 64-year-old Emilio since he practically was a kid. Next year they’ll celebrate their 40th anniversary, and they started working together with the Miami Sound Machine before that. The secret to that success: love and respect.
“We got married for love. We didn’t have a penny. When you get married to the right person for the right reason, it’s a lot easier.”
The story of their life and success is told in detail in the musical On Your Feet!, a Broadway sensation that will make its way to the Arsht Center from Oct. 5-15. Intertwined with all the hit songs, the production is an inspirational tale of two Cuban-born musicians making it in America against all odds. For many in the audience, it’s a story that will hit home.
“I think a lot of people will be laughing and crying, and for a lot of people it will bring back a lot of memories,” says Estefan, who refused to change his last name, his sound or his city to ensure success. “There were a lot of offers to move to England, New York, Los Angeles, and I said I want to do it at home. I came looking for freedom, and I said I’m not going to let anyone tell me what to do.”
Besides his role as executive producer of the On Your Feet! tour, executive producer of a television series for Amazon and producer of the latest album for Italian pop tenor trio Il Volo, he’s also developing some land he owns near the Arsht Center and running Estefan Kitchen, the upscale Cuban restaurant that he and Gloria opened this year in the Design District.
“There’s a little bit of pride having a Cuban restaurant in the Design District,” he says. “When you’re next to Bulgari and Hermès, you’re moving in the right direction.”
He can take some credit for much of the success achieved by Gloria, Jon Secada, Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and Shakira, to name a few, but these days he’d rather tell you about his Adidas jacket or his bike ride to work in the morning, where among the “200 birds, three cats and squirrels” on his route he is a star. “They know me,” he says. “I whistle and they come.”
His favorite topic of course is his family, but he’s not taking credit for any success that his son Nayib has in the film industry or his daughter Emily has with her budding music career.
“You know, I didn’t know she sang,” he says of Emily. “When she went to Berklee [College of Music] I knew she was a great drummer, but she sent me a tape and I said, ‘I love the song, I love the harmonies, I love the crescendos, I love the tone of the voice.’”
Of course when you’re Emilio Estefan, a guy who helps everyone who crosses his path, it’s impossible for him to not help Emily achieve her dream. On a brief tour of the studio, it became obvious that he helps the way Emilio helps best—as a father. On the ledge inside what he called “Emily’s studio,” there was a black Adidas jacket folded nicely with a note on top. He looked at it and smiled. “She gets cold,” he says. Sometimes the simple things can go a long way. On Your Feet!, Oct. 5-15, arshtcenter.org