Music and memories will soar Sunday with Estefan

Each year, on the eve of Memorial Day, PBS offers a passionate blend of music and memroes. This year's concert (Sunday, May 24) will add extra moment, when Gloria Estefan -- whose dad fought in Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs -- sings "Coming Out of the Dark." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

For Gloria Estefan,
these two things – music and the military – have entwined.

Her first recordings
were tapes she sent to her father in Vietnam. “I always remember my
dad in uniform,” she said.

On Sunday, she'll be
in PBS' annual Memorial Day eve concert, singing her biggest hit,
“Coming Out of the Dark.” It's the song she co-wrote while
recovering from critical bus-crash injuries.

“The words just
passed through me,” Estefan, 57, recalled. “It just came together
all at once.”

On Sunday, the song
will reflect the soldiers – including her dad – who came out of
wartime darkness.

Both of her parents
loved music and sang, Estefan said, but not professionally. Her mom
was a teacher; her dad, the son of a military officer, worked in the
security force for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. After the
revolution, Batista supporters fled; Gloria was 2 when her family
reached the U.S., not quite 4 when her dad was captured in the Bay of
Pigs operation.

Her mom claimed he
was gone on a project, but Estefan understood the truth. “I was
very precocious and I knew what had happened .... I think we were
trying to fool each other.”

He returned when a
prisoner deal was struck, but soon joined the Army. That's when she
started sending the tapes. “I was very shy, but he always wanted me
to sing.”

Music was a way of
dealing with the pain, she said. “I would go to my room and sing
and cry.”

Shortly after he
returned, the signs of multiple sclerosis – possibly spurred by
Agent Orange chemicals in Vietnam, she feels -- began to appear. “My
father had always been a strong man. It was hard for him to face the

That lasted 13
years, almost five of them in a Veterans Administration hospital,
before his death at 47. “I've always thought warm things about the
VA,” she said. “I would visit therte almost every day.”

Her own career
soared after Emilio Estefan, now her husband, talked her into singing
with his band. They would go on to merge Cuban traditions, a modern
dance beat and adult-contemporary ballads.

The result, Anthony
DeStefano wrote in “Gloria Estefan” (1997, Signet) “redefined
the meaning of success (for) millions of new, aspiring immigrants.”

On the Billboard
charts, she's had three No. 1 singles, seven more in the top 10, and
five top-10 albums. She's won three Grammys and sung at the Olympics,
two Super Bowls and the White House.

That career almost
ended with the 1990 bus crash. Estefan says she didn't sing for
months and reluctantly accompanied her husband to the studio. “He
pulled out this shriveled piece of paper that said, 'Coming out of
the dark.'”

The phrase had
struck him when the sun poured into a helicopter, on a ride to a New
York hospital. The song – written by Emilio and Gloria Estefan and
Jon Secada – would revive her career.

Now she'll sings it
on the Capitol lawn. “It's going to be a different version, for a
67-piece orchestra .... It's a really beautiful version.”

It will be
emotional, she said, but she's used to mega-crowds. “Sometimes,
it's harder to sing in front of 10 people.” Or to sing into a
tape-recorder, with your dad half-the-world away.

-- “National
Memorial Day Concert”

-- 8 p.m. Sunday
(Memorial Day eve), PBS; most stations will rerun it at 9:30

-- Music from
Estefan, “Voice”-winner Tessanne Chin and Tony-winner Laura
Benanti, plus Jason Dolley and classical singers Katherine Jenkins
and Russell Watson.