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Obituary: Frank Amadeo, Estefan Enterprises, FL president, 57

Frank Amadeo, a gregarious South Florida entertainment personality and long-time president of Estefan Enterprises who helped build the careers of Gloria Estefan and Shakira, has reportedly died at 57. According to reports, including a posting from The Latin Recording Academy, Amadeo died Saturday morning at his Brickell home of what may have been a heart…

Frank Amadeo, a gregarious South Florida entertainment personality and long-time president of Estefan Enterprises who helped build the careers of Gloria Estefan and Shakira, has reportedly died at 57.

According to reports, including a posting from The Latin Recording Academy, Amadeo died Saturday morning at his Brickell home of what may have been a heart attack.

Amadeo’s loss will be felt deeply in the South Florida entertainment community, a thriving market he helped shape in a career dating back to his teens when he was a student at South Broward High with his ear to the radio and a drive that started early and hadn’t flagged.

amadeo estefan 201_fitted.jpeg Gloria Estefan and Estefan Enterprise’s President Frank Amadeo in a 2016 Facebook photo. Frank Amadeo Facebook

Amadeo at Y-100 promoted Estefan

Amadeo, described in a 1995 Miami Herald profile as “an industrious kid and student leader at South Broward High,” started working at WHYI 100.7 FM (Y-100) in his junior year and “had accumulated a decade’s experience by his mid-20s.”

Amadeo would become Y-100’s program director during his 12 years with the station in the 1980s before Emilio and Gloria Estefan brought him on board to manage their company’s media relations in 1992.

Within a couple years, Amadeo rose to vice president of Estefan Enterprises. By 1998, he was the company’s president as Estefan Enterprises branched out into production of other major Latin music figures like Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Carlos Ponce, opening restaurants, properties, Broadway and beyond. Amadeo held that leadership role until his death.

Making friends in Miami

You could call that story one set of friends extending a hand to another friend.

Amadeo, more than anyone in radio, helped break the then-named Miami Sound Machine to the English language market when he started playing the group’s first English-language single, “Dr. Beat,” on Y-100 in 1984.

Playing it is an understatement. Amadeo gave the made-in-Miami dance bauble the same push that that iconic years’ biggest hits like Prince and the Revolution’s “When Doves Cry,” Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” singles — songs that defined popular music in the U.S. — enjoyed locally.

This was before “Conga” snaked its way into the Top 10 of Billboard’s mainstream pop chart in 1985. A full 34 years before the Estefans’ “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” was placed in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2018 for its historical significance. And it was before the Estefans life story turned into a Broadway musical — which, in one memorable setpiece, nodded to Y-100’s role in breaking “Dr. Beat” and, thus, thrusting Gloria Estefan onto worldwide prominence.

Amadeo took the Miami Sound Machine, its singer Gloria Estefan and its producer and percussionist Emilio Estefan, on as a “personal crusade,” according to the Herald.

Amadeo would call friends at stations across the country to convince them to play “Dr. Beat” too.

“We really stepped out to create a star,” Amadeo told the Herald in 1995. “Being from our home town, it was a project that was very heartfelt.”

The South Broward High kid had a thing for supporting locals. When “Miami Vice” star Don Johnson recorded his first solo album at North Miami’s Criteria Studios in 1986 the world wasn’t necessarily hot for the results. Actor turned singer? Prove it. We remember William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy’s records in the late 1960s when they were on another pop culture show, “Star Trek.”

You can bet Amadeo was going to give Johnson a chance. As Y-100 program director he slapped the catchy rock tune “Heartbeat” onto the air.

“It’s usually got to be a superstar capacity for us to put something into heavy rotation right away,” Amadeo told the Herald in 1986. “With Don Johnson being so Miami, it just seems very fitting.”

“Heartbeat” became a nationwide Top 5 hit.

All due to Amadeo? Perhaps not. Johnson’s then star power had built-in curiosity factor, even if critics were skeptical. Plus, the song and its parent album’s quality had a little something to do with its acceptance.

Amadeo’s passion for Miami entertainment

But Amadeo’s enthusiasm has always been infectious and commanded attention and warm embraces from media and professional friends across South Florida.

Reporters who needed to reach Gloria or Emilio Estefan went through Amadeo. He rarely left an inquiry without one of his own. He’d ask about family members, extend greetings and share concerns.

When contacted for comment on the death earlier this month of the Estefans’ bus driver Ron “Bear” Jones from COVID-19, just days after Gloria announced she had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, he made sure to add a friendly warning of his own to stay safe in this “scary world out there.”

Reaction to his death

Reactions to his sudden death quickly filled social media pages Saturday morning.

“He was pure kindness and love,” said CBS4 entertainment reporter Lisa Petrillo on Twitter as she noted Amadeo’s role — personally and professionally — in the lives of the Miami music power couple.

“He was their everything.”

“Beyond devastated,” wrote Patricia San Pedro on Facebook.

San Pedro, a longtime media executive and current spokeswoman for the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, enjoyed a 35-year friendship with Amadeo. “Tears running down my face and hands trembling as I post this,” she wrote.

Patti Escoto, who worked for Estefan Enterprises and is currently a senior level assistant to the CEO of HBO Latin America, posted on Facebook: “Heartbroken doesn’t cover what we’re feeling. … There will never be another Frank Amadeo. He was one of a kind. He’s left a hole in my heart and in the hearts of all of those who loved him.”

Heartbroken and at a loss for the right words. There will never be another Frank Amadeo he was one of a kind. He’s left a hole in my heart and in the hearts of all those who loved him. Rest In Peace Frank.

Posted by Patti Escoto on Saturday, December 12, 2020

Amadeo, who was also an advisory board member to the Miami Symphony and whose campaign behind Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra,” her 1993 return to Spanish-language recordings helped her win a Grammy for the project, fostered that kind of warmth.

“I rarely get mad,” he told the Herald when he became president of Estefan Enterprises. “I believe that there’s a way of making your point without screaming and yelling. That’s rare. I deal with people who yell and scream all the time. But working here, with Emilio and Gloria — they have such integrity and such business morals, that it’s just a part of all of us. We’re not here to step on anybody.”

Helping his pal win the Grammy for “Mi Tierra” was Amadeo’s proudest moment at the time, he said.

“We had worked so hard on the whole ‘Mi Tierra’ project. … I’m certainly not taking anything away from Gloria and Jon Secada and Cachao, but you’ve got to market any product. It doesn’t matter if it’s a toothbrush or an album.”

Said Emilio Estefan in a 1999 Variety story, ““Frank has become an important asset to our lives both personally and professionally. With Frank’s integrity, foresight and hard work, he has taken our vision and developed it into an empire that continues to grow.”

‘Could see myself there forever’

Amadeo, speaking about his long-term goals at the time, said he had always aspired to artist management but loved his role in the Estefan Enterprises organization.

“I’m fortunate that within this organization, I have creative freedom and they give me the space and resources. I could see myself here forever.”

And so he was.

According to WPLG Local 10, Amadeo is survived by his partner Ernesto and two sisters. There are no details on services yet.

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Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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