WASHINGTON — The legacy of seven-time Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan was recognized at this year’s Atlantic CouncilLeadership Awards ceremony, a prestigious event sponsored by one of the country’s leading international think tanks that aims to celebrate the contributions of global leaders. Estefan is the first Latina to receive this recognition.
The Cuban-American singer, songwriter, actress, author and businesswoman received the Distinguished Artistic Leadership Award in honor of her legendary career and contributions to the American music industry. Estefan has sold more than a million albums and has 18 number one hits.
Adrienne Arsht, executive vice chair of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors, introduced Estefan, calling her “a great artist and adding that “the arts define us as a civilization.”
Estefan, Arsht commented, “is the embodiment of the American dream,” and having left Cuba at a young age for Miami, “Gloria remembers the housing rental signs that said ‘No children. No pets. No Cubans.’”
In accepting the award, Estefan said, “I’ve had so many moments of ‘Pinch me, how is this happening,’ and this is one of them. I’ve been so lucky that through our music we’ve been able to bridge instead of build walls,” she said.
“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,” said Estefan, adding that she was “incredibly honored and thrilled” to receive the award.
“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,” she said.
Estefan has been the recipient of other prestigious awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barack Obama, multiple Billboard Awards and the Kennedy Center Honors, becoming the first Cuban American to receive such recognition.
In 2017, Estefan was selected as one of the nominees for the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Prior to that, she was inducted into the Latin Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014.
Many consider Estefan’s work crucial in bringing Latin sounds to the American mainstream and pop music scenes.
During the late 1970s, she first became well-known for her lead singing role in the band Miami Sound Machine.
She later released the chart-topping album ‘Mi Tierra’, leading her to eventually become one of the most iconic and influential cross-over pop stars of all times.
She and her husband Emilio Estefan took her talent and life story to Broadway through their musical ‘On Your Feet!’ which takes audiences back to the 1980s when Miami Sound Machine’s “1-2-3” chart-topping hit song was listened by Americans everywhere. After a successful Broadway run the musical is on a national tour.
President George W. Bush, General Curtis M. Scaparrotti and Starbucks founder Howard Schultz were also honored by the Atlantic Council alongside Estefan, receiving awards for their contributions in international relations, the military and business — respectively. In his remarks, Bush called Estefan, “mi amiga,” Spanish for “my friend.”
The evening included a performance by actress and singer Ana Villafañe, best known her portrayal of Estefan in the Tony-nominated On Your Feet!
Previous honorees have included Plácido Domingo and Juanes.
Patricia Guadalupe reported from Washington, D.C. and Nicole Acevedo from New York.
This article originally appeared on http://www.nbcnews.com