The set of mostly English-language tracks (with a smattering of Spanish and Portuguese) is Estefan's first foray into the repertoire, elegantly redone with classic orchestral arrangements that evoke the spirit of the originals. It's a major departure for an iconic artist whose entire career has been supported by contemporary radio hits. Estefan holds the record for the female act with the most No. 1s on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs chart, beginning with "Si Voy a Perderte" in 1989 all the way to last year's "Hotel Nacional."
"The challenge for me was to make these songs my own since they've already been recorded time and time again by some of the greatest singers of all time. That's why I chose songs that had special meaning and relevance in my own life," Estefan says.
The Standards-which also includes "Embraceable You," "What a Difference a Day Makes" and "The Way You Look Tonight"-will not be marketed and promoted like a standard Estefan album, or indeed, like any standards album. While there will be key lead tracks for different international markets-Sony Argentina is releasing "El Dia Que Me Quieras" in Spanish and Sony Italy is releasing "Smile" in Italian as a duet with Laura Pausini-the album's main support comes through strategic alliances with diverse partners that range from AARP to Gilt City.
In both of those cases, The Standards marks a first. For AARP-the nonprofit membership organization for people ages 50 and older with more than 37 million members-it's the group's biggest music partnership, and includes underwriting an Estefan PBS special that started airing this month. And for Gilt City, sister site to Gilt.com-the lifestyle platform with more than 7 million members that provides access to lifestyle experiences ranging from fashion and fitness to concerts and events-it will be the first curated event around an album launch.
"This album is very different than anything else she has done previously. It represents Gloria's evolution and who she is today," Sony Masterworks president Bogdan Roscic says. "We believe that it will speak to both Spanish- and English-speaking consumers. These songs are classics and deal with emotions and experiences that are relatable to everyone. Her fans are loyal and we think that they will embrace something different from Gloria."
Estefan's fans are indeed loyal, and they've stayed with her through the years, one of the hallmarks of her success. But she's also been adept at gaining new followers, hence her steady presence on radio.
"She is one of those rare breeds of artists that has a wide demographic range," manager Frank Amadeo says. "From a new generation that knows her music through 'Sesame Street' and animated films that feature her music to their parents and their grandparents."
Pop artists turning to standards as a way of reinventing or reinvigorating their careers is by no means a new strategy. Rod Stewart began his Great American Songbook series in 2002, which has sold 3.3 million, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and sustained five volumes. Barry Manilow recorded an album of songs by Frank Sinatra in 1998, but initiated his own standards series with The Greatest Songs of the Fifties in 2006, which sold 1.1 million and spawned editions devoted to the '60s, '70s and '80s.
Estefan, though, as a Hispanic woman with English- and Spanish-speaking fans, brings a broader approach both to the repertoire and audience. This makes her particularly appealing for AARP.
"It's a natural," says Lorraine Vazquez, AARP executive VP for multicultural markets and engagements. "It's the power of these classics, which is fabulous, and her ability to just feel so comfortable and do it with such great talent. And at AARP, we are reimagining ourselves and are at a major transition to try to introduce the multicultural markets to AARP from a very different point of view."
Years ago, "when people thought about AARP, they thought about retirement and high quality of life," Vazquez says. But today, with extended life cycles, and the notion that 60 is the new 40, life after 50 has changed dramatically. So much so that in May AARP launched a new platform called "Life Reimagined" that seeks to redefine how people see aging. The brand ambassador was producer Emilio Estefan. In one of those fortuitous coincidences, his wife happened to be working on, of all things, a standards album, and it became the perfect vehicle-and she the perfect artist-to tie in to a new program.
"Gloria as an artist has consistently evolved and reinvented herself," Amadeo says. "So when you think about it, Gloria and AARP have a lot of similarities. The opportunity to highlight Gloria's standards CD to a membership base of over 40 million people in the United States allows a reach that is not easily attainable these days."
Although AARP had partnered with artists before, most notably with Tony Bennett, who performed at one of the organization's conventions a few years ago, it had never done a musical partnership of this scope. Estefan's deal is multipronged. The biggest component is AARP's role as a major underwriter for the PBS special featuring Estefan that was filmed last spring at Miami's New World Center for the Arts and began airing this month. During pledge period, viewers can call and get the CD as part of their pledge and AARP gets credit onscreen as a show underwriter.
In addition, Estefan is featured on the cover story of this month's edition of the AARP magazine, which goes to all members, who can also download the single "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" for free from AARP's website. And in October, Estefan will perform a private concert for AARP members, for which the organization has purchased 4,000 copies of her CD.
NEXT PAGE: CONCEIVING THE IDEA FOR 'THE STANDARDS'
Estefan didn't conceive The Standards with AARP, or really anyone, in mind. The idea for the album came two years ago, during a dinner at the home of a University of Miami trustee, where UM dean of music Shelly Berg invited Estefan to sing "Good Morning Heartache" (made famous by Billie Holiday) with him at the piano. Estefan had guested on several standard projects with the likes of Bennett and Placido Domingo and had long toyed with the idea of an album. But performing "Good Morning Heartache," a song she had sung 30 years earlier during her first appearance on "The Tonight Show" was a catalyst.
The timing was right. After a lifetime with Sony, Estefan had branched out on her own in 2011 to record Miss Little Havana, which was eventually distributed by Universal. But Afo Verde, the new head of Sony Music Latin America, was eager to get her back and proposed different concept albums to her. When Estefan mentioned a standards album, Verde jumped at the chance and brought in Masterworks.
"I chose songs that had special meaning and relevance in my own life so that I could dig deep and share the emotions that accompany these songs in my heart and soul," says Estefan, who asked Berg to co-produce the set, recorded primarily live with the musicians in the studio. "Despite the fact that I've journeyed through the different genres of pop, dance, Latin and now jazzy standards, all of these are very much a part of my life and experience because of the circumstances of my life ... So recording this album was like coming home, and I hope to do it again," she says, referring to plans to do a second and third volume.
"We recorded live with Gloria, which was part of the success of the record," says Berg, a jazz pianist who has also worked with a broad range of artists, including Carole King and Kiss. Initial takes were recorded with piano, bass, guitar and drums, with Estefan singing live. "Almost everything she did she sang in those four days," Berg says.
And while there are, of course, numerous versions of standards, Estefan's, Berg says, are true to her sound. "We found a sweet spot where we're not rehashing what's been done."
Although The Standards is out on Masterworks, Sony Music Latin is doing all the marketing for the U.S. Latin market and Latin America, including recent Estefan visits to Brazil and Argentina, where the label is releasing "Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar" and "El Dia Que Me Quieras" as singles, respectively.
Estefan is also part of the Sony Rewards card's "Showstoppers" promotion, which allows Sony card members to use their rewards points to bid on the chance to see Estefan perform The Standards at Royal Albert Hall in London in October, meet her and receive a CD pack.
The London show is one of several one-offs, hand-picked for the unique settings they provide for this particular music. Estefan is also performing at the massive Night of the Proms series in Switzerland, where she'll perform both standards and older hits with symphonic arrangements.
U.S. dates will probably take place in late winter or early spring, says Creative Artists Agency managing partner/music head Rob Light, who has booked Estefan for the last 15 years.
In the meantime, Estefan, who already boasts a repertoire closely associated with key lifetime moments (what party conga line doesn't play "Conga," for example?), has high hopes for The Standards in that department as well.
"I chose songs that are special to me," she says. "'El Dia Que Me Quieras' was our wedding song, and it was the first song we danced to as husband and wife. I got the big honor to write it in English, and it's going to be a killer wedding song. That was my plan."