Gloria Estefan Takes International Approach to American Songbook for 'The Standards'

Channeling her Miami upbringing, the singer’s latest album lists a blend of original tracks and covers of classics, and in five different languages.

Gloria Estefan has set a new standard for recording an album of favorites from the American Songbook. For her latest album with Sony Music, The Standards, the singer includes both original tracks and covers of classics – and in five different languages.

“I've had the good fortune that my music has reached people on a global level, so when we first started talking about this album, I knew that I wanted to incorporate ‘standards’ from around the world,” Estefan tells The Hollywood Reporter of the cultural blend, featuring collaborations with singer-songwriter Laura Pausini, violinist Joshua Bell and saxophonist Dave Koz. She also greatly channeled her Miami upbringing, where she grew up listening to Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Henry Mancini and romance recording artists in Mexico and Cuba.

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“Miami is my home, so there are so many things that I hold close to my heart there,” says Estefan, who curated a collection of her favorite hometown hotspots for Gilt City to celebrate the album’s release. “One of my all-time favorite memories is from 1972, when the Miami Dolphins won the Super Bowl after their undefeated season. I remember laying on the hood of my parents’ car listening to the radio and hearing the city celebrate.”

THR chatted with Estefan about why she selected each of these songs, how she recorded tracks like a Spanish version of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” and what fans can expect at a Standards live concert featuring the same singer who first championed the Conga.

Do each of these songs have personal significance?

Each of these tracks have a special place in my heart, it was very hard narrowing them down to just 15. For example, "The Day You Say You Love Me" is actually our wedding song originally sung by the God of tango, Carlos Gardell, in Spanish, which I also recorded for this album and had the honor to write the English adaptation.

"Good Morning Heartache" is another one, it really brings this album full circle for me. I first sang this song when I was on [The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson] with the Miami Sound Machine after we performed "Conga.” They asked us to perform another song, and I sang it with just me and my piano player. It is also the song that started this whole idea – I sang it with Shelly [Berg] on the piano at a trustee meeting for [University of Miami’s Frost School of Music], and while I was singing it, I saw this album come to life in my head.

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How did you pick which tracks would make The Standards?

I started with a short list of 1,000, which then had to filter down to fifty, and then finally down to the fifteen. We met at Shelly's office and sat at the piano, going through the list, song by song. There were moments he made me cry and I made him cry; it was really a beautiful process…but I still have that list, and hopefully we can do another volume of The Standards to include them.

How did you approach songs that have been covered so many times and in so many different ways, like "What a Wonderful World" and "The Way You Look Tonight," for this album?

I enjoyed every moment! First, I downloaded (legally) a bunch of different versions of these songs by different artists, and when we did the photo shoot – which was actually shot before we recorded the album – I was playing all the different versions so that I could hear them and make sure to stay true to my own style. You’re talking about some of the greats that recorded these tracks, so I wanted to make sure not to touch them, and try to put my own spin on them.

The album features a mix of languages, as well as covers and originals -- a unique blend for a single album. What went into that decision?

I've had the good fortune that my music has reached people on a global level, so when we first started talking about this album, I knew that I wanted to incorporate “standards" from around the world. I stuck to the Romance languages – Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese – which all are a part of me. Spanish is in my roots, and I actually had a French minor in school. Brazil and Portuguese I've always loved; one of our first albums back in the day is actually called Rio and we recorded in Portuguese back then. And Italian is now part of my family; my son's wife is Italian, so my grand baby is learning Italian and so am I.

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I imagine performances of tracks from this album will be in intimate venues, full of rich instruments and minimal choreography. How do you feel about the switch, especially in comparison to performing pop/dance hits on arena stages with a ton of background dancers?

I love both things; they are both a part of me. But I grew up on these standards so I'm really excited about performing them. We will be in Royal Albert Hall on Oct. 17, and I'm hoping maybe to do the Hollywood Bowl or Radio City. Although we may not have dancers, we will have a lush orchestra. I will still be performing my hits, but with a little twist. 

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