Estefan attended Lourdes Academy, a Catholic parochial school in Miami, where she graduated from high school in 1975. She then entered the University of Miami, where she had obtained a partial scholarship to study psychology. That same year, she met Emilio Estefan, a young sales manager for Bacardi in Miami who had a local pop music quartet known as the Miami Latin Boys. After hearing her sing at a wedding where they were playing, they invited her to join the group as their lead vocalist. In 1978 she graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology and married Emilio. Their band, which had been well accepted in the Miami area, changed their name to the Miami Sound Machine.
The Miami Sound Machine was a rhythmic band that played fast-tempo Latino music with features that combined American pop and rock with Spanish rhythms. In 1980 they signed a recording contract with Discos CBS International, the Latino affiliate of CBS records, and between 1981 and 1983 released the records Renacer (Rebirth), Otra vez (Again), and A toda maquina (Full Speed). Their recordings and the high-energy concerts and performances they staged throughout Latin America brought considerable recognition to the band in the Latino market. Anyone who saw Estefan's performances at the time easily recognized her talent and ability. Having accumulated many hits within the Latin market, it was clear to the Estcfans that their next step should be a transition into the American market, a risky strategy that had been successfully accomplished by only a few Latino performers. In 1984, the band released the English tune "Dr. Beat," a song recorded in English, on the backside of one of their albums in Spanish. Unexpectedly, the song became one of the top-ten hits on the U.S. dance charts, boosting their belief that they could be successful in the English-speaking American market.
The success of "Dr. Beat" prompted CBS records to transfer the band to Epic Records, their international rock-music division. With Epic, they released the album Eyes of Innocence in 1984. The album sold well but it was the following album, Primitive Love (1985), that brought her to the top of the charts. "Conga," one of the singles on that album, broke all records by hitting Billboard's pop, black, dance, and Latin charts at the same time, demonstrating Estefan's crossover potential. This song, rich in percussion and suitable for dance, became a favorite of discotheques and concert-goers alike. Along with the songs "Bad Boy and Words Get in the Way," which also became hits, the Miami Sound Machine secured two American Music Awards in 1986.
Estefan's superb stage presence, along with her vocal prowess, made it clear to the public and to entertainment figures alike that she was the primary source of talent behind the Miami Sound Machine, renamed Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine in 1987. Band members became unhappy with the fact that she was receiving all of the attention and credit, prompting her decision to leave the band and become a solo performer. In 1989 she released Cuts Both 'Ways, her first solo album containing hits such as "Don't Wanna Lose You" and "Here We Are."
In 1990, while en route to a concert, her touring bus was involved in a serious accident. She suffered a spinal injury that required emergency surgery and a lengthy recovery time. After countless hours of therapy, Estefan recovered and has made a successful comeback.
Her family moved to the United States in 1959 to escape the Castro regime. Her father, José Manuel Fajardo, had been an intelligence and military officer working for Cuban dictator José Fulgencio Batista. Since he had intelligence information about Cuba, he was recruited by the CIA to be part of the 2506 Brigade that launched the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
After the invasion failed, he spent almost two years in a Cuban prison as a political prisoner. When he was released from prison, he returned to the United States and joined the U.S. Army, fought in the Vietnam War, and eventually attained the rank of captain. Shortly after returning to the United States, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
The debilitating nature of her father's illness had severe implications for the family. Estefan's mother, who had been a teacher in Cuba, was forced to find a job and go to school at night. As a result, Estefan was left in charge and took care of her sick father and her youngest sister Emily. She found solace in this depressing situation in reading and writing poetry, practicing her guitar, and singing.
Estefan became romantically involved with the Miami Sound Machine's band leader, Emilio Estefan, in 1976. As she later revealed, "he was my first and only boyfriend." She and Emilio married on September 2, 1978. They have a son, Nayib (born September 2, 1980) and a daughter Emily (born December 5, 1994). The family lives on Star Island.
On June 5, 2010, Nayib married Lara Diamante Coppola in the backyard of his parents' house. On June 21, 2012, the first Estefan grandchild was born: grandson Sasha Argento Coppola Estefan.