Gloria Estefan's Playlist: Latin Singing Sensation Shares Top 6 Musical Inspirations

PHOTO: Cuban-American singing sensation Gloria Estefan sat down with "Nightline" to talk about music that has influenced her over the years.PlayABC News
WATCH Gloria Estefan's Playlist: 6 Fav Songs

Cuban-American singing sensation Gloria Estefan, along with her band the Miami Sound Machine, helped break boundaries by making Latin music a staple on the mainstream pop charts.

The group's smash hits, such as "1-2-3," "Rhythm Is Gonna Get You," "Conga" and "Anything For You," were just some of the dozens of songs that put Gloria Estefan on the map and remain popular today.

Almost four decades after joining the Miami Sound Machine, Estefan is still making new music. Her 26th studio album, "Miss Little Havana," was released on Sept. 27.

In an interview with "Nightline" at New York City's Theater Bar, the 54-year-old singer recalled the top six songs on her playlist that have inspired her over the years and influenced her sound and her style.

1. "Quimbara," Celia Cruz

Born Gloria Fajardo on Sept. 1, 1957 in Havana, Cuba, the singer lived her early years at a time when a bloody revolution ravaged her home county. She and her family fled Cuba to the United States when she was still a toddler after Communist leader Fidel Castro rose to power.

"My first musical memory is of the amazing Cuban music of Cachao Celia Cruz, and the reason I remember this is because when we left Cuba, I was only 18 months, we weren't allowed to take anything with us," Estefan said. "My mother, being a lover of music and coming from a big musical family, it was a big part of our life. So my grandmother started smuggling Cuban records in baby food that she would send me from Cuba because they didn't make mango compota here in the States yet. Right now, the song that reminds me of Celia most is Quimbara."

2. "Sabor a Mi," Trio Los Panchos

After coming to the United States, Estefan's father, Jose Manuel Fajardo, eventually joined the U.S. Army and served two years in Vietnam.

"When my dad first returned from Vietnam, he was very ill and he went downhill very fast," Estefan said. "It was Agent Orange and it was a complicated situation.

"I was very shy but music was always my first love," she added. "I learned, basically, to make [my dad] happy. I learned old Cuban standards for him -- 'Sabor a Mi' and 'Tu Me Acostumbraste' -- I was kind of hermetically sealed, but not only because it's my personality and I tend to be very quiet like my dad was, but because I wanted to be so strong for my music was my escape. I would lock myself in my room with my guitar and sing, and when I would sing, the tears would pour down and I would just let everything out."

3. "What a Difference a Day Makes," Esther Phillips

In 1975, Estefan met her first and only boyfriend, keyboardist Emilio Estefan, who led a popular quartet called the Miami Latin Boys.

"When I first met Emilio, they actually had called him over to give us some tips on how to get a band together, so Emilio came over with his accordion and very short shorts," Estefan said. "That was the first time I saw him. He was, at the time, 21 years old, I thought he was this older guy, I'm only four and a half years younger than Emilio, but he seemed very worldly to me, and he had this band that was doing really great in Miami, so that was it."

A few months later, Estefan attended a wedding where the Miami Latin Boys were playing. At the time, she was still a student at the University of Miami.

Gloria Estefan on Joining the Miami Sound Machine

"[Emilio] came over to me that night and said, 'You know, we don't have a singer in the band. I think it would be really cool to have a singer like you. Are you interested?'" Estefan said. "I said, 'Look, I'm going to start school. I already have two jobs. I really can't do this.' Two weeks later, he tracked me down. So I went over there with my mom, my grandmom and my sister to where Emilio was practicing, which happened to be his mother's apartment, and the whole condo was having a party because they had no choice. It was either dance or call the cops -- and they didn't call the cops."

4. "You've Got a Friend," Carole King

By 1977, Estefan had joined the group, which had renamed itself the Miami Sound Machine, and the band recorded its first album together, "Live Again Renacer." What started out as a business relationship between Gloria and Emilio Estefan became a personal one, and the two were married in 1978.

Even now, Gloria Estefan says music legend Carole King is one of her biggest musical inspirations.

"The most influential in my personal style would be Carole King," Estefan said. "I think that as a person that really listens to lyrics and was motivated by a lot of the lyrics that I heard the artists do throughout the years, it was just so soulful and it was something I could play on the acoustic guitar. And it was a woman.

"It was one of the first really high-profile women, because before that it was mostly men in the music industry," she said. "There weren't these pop icons in music that were female and I thought she was so cool, so laid back. She was very much my style, and I indentified with her greatly. I really loved people that sang and actually wrote their own music because I knew it meant something even more. It gave me insight into who they were, their soul, and they got me through a lot of really tough times."

Soon, the Miami Sound Machine's popularity grew in the United States and led to full-fledged international fame. In 1985, the group had three Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: "Conga," "Words Get in the Way" and "Bad Boy."

"In the beginning, it took a while for our music to really break out," Estefan said. "But all of a sudden, in South America, we got huge hits and we'd go over and fill a 50,000-seat stadium, and then come back to Miami and do a wedding with 200 people, which kind of teaches you what fame is all about."

5. "Someone Like You," Adele

Estefan released her best-selling album to date -- "Cuts Both Ways" -- in 1989, which included the hit singles, "Get on Your Feet" and "Don't Wanna Lose You." But while on tour in 1990, Estefan broke her back when a tractor-trailer rammed into the group's tour bus in Pennsylvania. She was 32.

"'Someone Like You,' I think, is something that really, you can feel the pain and seeing someone move on without you, yet she's trying to be positive and think, 'OK, I'm going to turn this around, I'm going to make it happen,'" Estefan said. "I think people need to know that there's always some kind of positive thing on the other side, something that you become stronger for the experience. She really gets to me because I can hear her vulnerability. I can hear her honesty in her music. Music has always gotten me through the really rough times, and this was the type of music that got me through."

6. "Edge of Glory," Lady Gaga

After more than a year of intense physical therapy, Estefan made a strong comeback to the stage in 1991. Now, even with seven Grammies, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and more than 90 million albums sold, Estefan is still making new music.

"I love Gaga. I think she's an amazing artist with amazing chops," Estefan said. "I would love to just watch her do a whole concert sitting at the piano and singing, because she's real, you know. She writes her stuff and she's got an amazing musical background and chops. I love the theatrical parts of her show. She really makes everything bigger than life.

"Artists that have something to say, that are trying to make things different through their music, putting their life, their experience -- I think that's the best thing you can do as an artist," she said. "I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would end up doing what I did, being a singer and going worldwide with my music, and it's really a blessing."