Atlantic Council
2018 Distinguished Leadership Awards
Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award Presentation

Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council
General James L. Jones, Jr.,
Interim Chairman, Atlantic Council;
Chairman, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security
Gloria Estefan,
Grammy Award-Winning Singer
Adrienne Arsht,
Chairman Emerita,

Location:  Washington, D.C.

Time:  7:00 p.m. EDT

Date:  Thursday, May 10, 2018

Transcript By

Superior Transcriptions LLC

ANNOUNCER:  Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage Executive Vice Chairman of the Atlantic Council Ms. Adrienne Arsht.  (Cheers, applause.)

ADRIENNE ARSHT:  The arts define us a civilization.  The paintings of Lascaux Caves, the music over the centuries, the songs that are handed down through generations.  The arts matter.  I am known as someone who supports the arts, partially because I can’t perform any of them.  (Laughter.)  But let me tell you about a great artist, Gloria Fajardo Estefan, tonight’s recipient of the Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award.  (Applause.)

As you’ve heard, Gloria is a seven-time Grammy winner, a singer, a songwriter, an actress, businesswoman, New York Times best-selling author and, of course, she is also a daughter, a wife, a mother, abuela – that’s a grandmother – and my friend.  Gloria is the embodiment of the American dream.  She was born in Havana, Cuba.  Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a Cuban soldier in President Batista’s army.  Her mother, Gloria Garcia Fajardo, was a teacher. 

In 1960, Gloria, her mother and sister fled Cuba to Miami.  Her father remained in a Cuban jail as a political prisoner.  Eventually, he was released and he, too, came to Miami.  Gloria remembers the housing rental signs that said “No children.  No pets.  No Cubans.”

When her father came to Miami, he enlisted in the United States Army and served in Vietnam.  While there, he was tainted by Agent Orange, and when he returned to Miami he required full time medical care.  Gloria graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology and a minor in French.  She was already bilingual with Spanish and English and now, with French, she was a translator for the customs department at Miami International Airport.

Because of her skills, the CIA offered her a job.  If she had taken it, it might be she that was up for confirmation hearings.  (Laughter, applause.)  But, fortunately for us, Gloria focused on her music career.  She met Emilio Estefan, who had created a band called the Miami Latin Boys.  He asked Gloria to join the band and, of course, he renamed it the Miami Sound Machine, as they now had gender diversity.

As they started out, they were a very popular local band, playing at quinseaneras as well as the weddings and bar mitzvahs of the Anglo population.  And yet, when they went to meet a record label executive to pitch their first English-language song, he told them, stay in your lane – Americans have no interest in Latin music.

Emilio answered – and I wish I could do his accent – look at my face – whether you like it or not, this is what an American looks like.  (Applause.)  And guess what?  Gloria has sold more than a hundred million albums and had 38 number-one Billboard hits.  (Applause.)  And how’s this for a coincidence tonight?  President George H. W. Bush appointed Gloria to serve as a delegate to the United Nations, thus adding diplomat to her resume.

And another story, a bit ironic, about tonight, albeit tragic, is that after Gloria and Emilio met with Bush 41 at the White House, they got into their tour bus and headed to Philadelphia.  It was a very snowy night.  On that trip, a huge tractor trailer crashed into their bus.  Gloria was left paralyzed.  She was not expected to walk again, let alone do the conga and sing.

With her natural resilience, she proved them wrong and was back on stage a year later at the American Music Awards, performing a hit she wrote during her difficult recovery.  She called it “Coming out of the Dark.”

The life story of Gloria, Emilio and her family was made into the Tony-nominated musical “On Your Feet.”  I’m not supposed to tell you this, but soon you will hear several songs from that show.  Act surprised.  (Laughter.)

Well, for all this and so much more, it is so fitting that the Atlantic Council’s Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award be given to my friend and fellow Miamian, Gloria Fajardo Estefan.  (Cheers, applause.)


GLORIA ESTEFAN:  Thank you so much, Adrienne.

And thank all of you – Adrienne, who is the only person that has two companies in the Atlantic Council and is an amazing friend and mentor.  And I am so thrilled.

But Adrienne, you don’t know if I actually joined the CIA, do you?  (Laughter.)  It’s a perfect cover.  I’ve met with presidents, two popes, several royal people throughout the world.  So, yeah, my mom wasn’t having it.  She was not happy about that.

But tonight – I’ve been so lucky to have so many moments of pinch me; how is this happening?  This is one of them.

And there’s also that moment of six degrees of separation from every amazing recipient on this stage.  As Adrienne shared, we were with George H.W. Bush the day before my accident, where he for 45 minutes spoke to my son in the Oval Office.  And I thought my son was going to be really nervous and say – you know, freak out.  And he actually said to the president, Mr. President, I watched your – Mrs. Bush’s tribute to American teachers, and then proceeded to take over the conversation.  They are a very warm and beautiful family.

And George W. Bush, who was here – Emilio, my husband – who, baby, I wouldn’t be here without you; we wouldn’t be here without each other.  (Applause.)  He’s over there.  We will be married for 40 years this September.  (Cheers, applause.)  Yes – together 43.  He was my first and only.  He got a good deal.  (Laughter.)  Come on.  In the `70s, I think if I’m the last remaining virgin at that time.  (Laughter.)  I was a Catholic schoolgirl.  What can I tell you?

But we had the opportunity to meet the president.  And I wanted to take my mother to meet him on one of those opportunities.  And my mother was so far right, she was left.  She’s a Cuban, extremely right wing.  So we were standing there waiting for the president to come in, and I tell her, Mom, be on your best behavior.  My mom was a force to be reckoned with.

And at that time, we had just – one of our planes, our high-tech planes from the United States, had landed in China, and they had kind of confiscated it and were trying to charge us money to get it back.  So I knew my mother had a beef about that issue.  And I warned her, Mom, please be on your best behavior.  You’re meeting the president.  Give him a break.

So Mr. President comes in and she’s standing in line, and the first thing she says to him is don’t pay the Chinese.  (Laughter.)  Emilio turns to my husband and says, that’s your mother-in-law?  I feel for you, buddy.  (Laughter.)  So that’s the amazing President George W. Bush.

Howard Schultz – what an incredible speech that he gave.  (Applause.)  What an example – although I still think Estefan Kitchen does the Cuban coffee way better than Starbucks.  (Laughter.)  Gonna have to give him some pointers on that ground.

General, my dad served, as you heard, in the U.S. Army.  And I’m an Army brat, so your uniform really impresses me.  Thank you so much for your service and for the amazing job that you’ve done. 

And, Cindy – (applause) – thank you, because my mother sacrificed a lot to have her husband serve his two countries, Cuba – where he served in Bay of Pigs and was a political prisoner for two years – and the United States Army, that he served with honor and so much love for the freedom that this country gave us, a freedom that I still appreciate so much and defend whenever I can, because I think that the immigrants that come to this country oftentimes really appreciate what we have much more so than people that have been here for generations, and realize – (applause) – it’s the truth.  And realize that these freedoms have to be defended every moment.  That it is not a given that everything that we have, we need to defend and honor. 

And for me, that has always been my moving force.  I’ve been so lucky that through our music we’ve been able to bridge instead of build walls, as the amazing Howard Schultz said.  We’ve been able to live our lives in a part of life that is – celebrates what we share as human beings.  Music rarely separates us.  It’s not politics.  It’s not religion.  It’s something that reaches across into the hearts of people all over the world.  And it didn’t matter what language we were singing in.  Somehow, the rhythm got them.  And I’m very happy for that.  (Laughter.)

And I’m not going to, you know, keep you hear longer.  I know you have jobs – (laughter) – that are important to get to tomorrow.  But a few years ago I told my husband Emilio – I said, you know, I wish I could clone myself.  And, hello, I figured out how to do it.  I have three amazing Gloria’s all over the globe right now doing our life story in the amazing “On Your Feet.”  And tonight, as Adrienne said, we are going to have the Gloria that established this amazing role on Broadway for two years – I don’t know how she did it; it was a tough gig.  She’s going to be performing for you tonight.  And Ana Villafane, who is an amazing singer, actress, and she has been able to go out there and do my job for me, which I am very appreciative of.

But like I said, moments like these, where I look around and I think, oh my gosh.  I was two years old when I came to this country, with all the dreams that my father had for us for my life, that my mother had – she had a Ph.D. in education in Cuba.  And she came here and revalidated her credentials and served as a teacher for 25 years.  She was the union rep for the public school system in her school.  And she was someone that defended this country as much as my dad did.  And I will do that until the day I die, because I believe in this country.  And the fact that the Atlantic Council – the fact that they exist gives me only hope for the future, because the bottom line is that we are all together. 

We are all in this together.  And no matter what happens, no matter what challenges we face in the world, in this country, when there are people trying to get together, trying to work it out, trying to understand each other, trying to make bridges, then I know that we’re in a good place.  So I am so incredibly honored and thrilled to be receiving this award.  And I cannot tell you enough how much I love this country, how much I am proud of having grown up here, how much I try to be emblematic of that freedom through my songs that I write, celebrating freedom of speech, celebrating the things that I’ve grown up, thankfully, in this country experiencing.  All I can tell you is that I am beyond honored and privileged to receive this award, especially in the company of the recipients of this year, and also everyone in this room that is so incredibly important to our nation and has done so much.

So thank you very much.  I really appreciate it.  Thank you, Adrienne.  Thank you, Atlantic Council.  Thank you, all of you.  Thank you to all the recipients with me.  Thank you.  God bless you.  (Applause.)


(Cheers, applause.)

MS. ESTEFAN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  What an incredible evening.  I had the honor, of course, of telling Gloria’s story on Broadway for two years, as you heard.  And, yes, she’s a cultural icon.  Yes, she is the conga queen.  But she’s also an incredible human being.  And going back to what Howard Schultz said, that I think is almost more important than all the other accomplishments.

And this next song is probably my – was probably my favorite part of the Broadway show, and I’d like to dedicate it to the fact that she is many things, including a mother, and this is Mother’s Day weekend.  So I’d like to dedicate this song to her and to her mother, her late mother, Gloria Fajardo, as well as to the inimitable Barbara Bush.  (Applause.)


(Cheers, applause.)

MS. ESTEFAN:  I love you.  Thank you.

All right.  So this next song I am dedicating to something a little more abstract.  Doing eight shows a week was definitely a commitment, and there was a time when my voice doctor told me I had to stop drinking caffeine, which was awful because there was actually a Starbucks downstairs of our theater.

So where is Howard Schultz, by the way?  Howard, Howard, where are you?  OK, great.

Anyway, so there was a Starbucks downstairs at the Marriott Marquis Theatre, and I was very much addicted, and every single day I got a venti white chocolate mocha with coconut milk.  And then I could not do that anymore.  So this song goes out to that.  (Laughter.)


(Cheers, applause.)

MS. ESTEFAN:  (Laughs.)  Thank you for, I don’t know, amusing me.  (Laughter.)

So for my last song I wanted to sing this one, which I did not sing in this show actually, but I watched the incredible Andrea Burns perform it every day.  And it is actually from my favorite album.  It is the titular song from the “Mi Tierra” album.  And this song is all about pride in one’s homeland.  So I could think of no better closer than this song.  It’s called “Mi Tierra,” which literally means “my homeland.”  And this one I want to dedicate to the general and to all of the active military, or the former military, and of course to Fajardo, which was Gloria’s father.  So here we have it.


(Cheers, applause.)

MS. ESTEFAN:  Good night!  (Cheers, applause.)

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you all for being here.  Thank you for the Atlantic Council staff.  Howard, we can get you rights to that last act.  See you next year.  Thank you for your help all during the year.  Thank you.  (Cheers, applause.)