After more than 30 years, Gloria Estefan remains the most famous voice from Miami. That same time span put Emilio Estefan at the center of Latin pop, but may be entering the most high-profile phase of his career.
The famous couple, who will be honored this week by South Florida’s largest business group, announced a deal this month to turn their life stories into a Broadway musical. Meanwhile, Emilio is finalizing details to turn a script he penned into his first feature film. Three weeks from his 60th birthday, the long-time Latin producer finds himself a go-to endorser for the increasingly coveted Hispanic market.
He’s planning announce a line of Emilio Estefan headphones, and recently signed on as a paid “ambassador” for AARP. Last year came a deal with Target that a spokeswoman said makes Estefan the only celebrity commissioned by the retailer to endorse a selection of music, books and movies — “Emilio Estefan’s Picks.”
Though his wife retains the bulk of the star power — she’s the face of AT&T in a series of commercials and guest starred on last year’s season finale of Glee — Emilio Estefan now finds more of the marketing spotlight shining his way
“I’m doing the biggest things in my life right now,’’ he said, walking the halls of his Bird Road recording studio in white pants and a black, long-sleeved T-shirt. “I’m living in the right time. We are living in a time where second-generation Hispanics are going mainstream. I think my age is the perfect age. If you were too young, you would be too Anglo. If you were too old, you would be too Latin.”
The Cuban-born pair remain Miami’s most durable celebrity couple, defining the city’s Latin beat since their Miami Sound Machine hit it big with Conga in 1985. Their business and charitable footprints in Miami-Dade County will be celebrated at a gala at Jungle Island Wednesday night when they receive the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce’s top honor, the Sand in My Shoes Award
“They’re really the first music talents that have come from our home town,’’ said Phillis Oeters, chairwoman of the Chamber. “I just think they’re the ultimate ambassadors for Miami. They have become the brand.”
The business group has never had celebrities as honorees for the annual award — much less one that is providing a band for the night. (Last year’s winner: Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron.) The 900-seat dinner, where tickets start at $500, has sold out. For Emilio Estefan, he sees the Sand in My Shoes ceremony as partyly a thank-you to a community that sustained two young immigrants in their unlikely bid for stardom.
“It will be like a family reunion,’’ he said. “The first bar mitzvah I played in Miami, someone said: ‘Do you know Hava Nagila?’” He didn’t, but soon learned.
Estefan’s teen-dance days were before he teamed up with Gloria, then a young translator in the immigration area of Miami International Airport. In the 1970s, he recruited her to be the lead singer for his band, which eventually went from the Miami Latin Boys to the Miami Sound Machine.
A decade later, Emilio thought the two had a potential hit with the song, Dr. Beat. But record companies then thought it all seemed too Latin for a U.S. audience.