The Kennedy Center

Carlos Santana


(Musician and songwriter; born July 20, 1947, in Autlán de Navarro, Jalisco, Mexico)

Passion, soul, and that elusive thing called sabor come through the music of Carlos Santana. His is always a surprising sound, ahead of its time--true world music before the term was even invented, but uniquely American in its multicultural reach. "Two things about Santana never go out of style," according to Rolling Stone, "the spiritual and the sensual." It is easy to hear why. Anointed "one of rock's true virtuosos and guiding lights," in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Santana is an artist who transcends musical genres and touches the heart across all generations.

From his early days in the 1960s with the group that bears his name, playing at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco, through his epic performance at Woodstock in 1969, it was clear that something new had arrived, something unstoppable. Rock and jazz fusions, the gentlest norteño lilt, Afro-Cuban beats, daring polyrhythms and 12-bar blues, a true river of colors all shone in this man's music from the start.  His first album, which introduced the hit "Evil Ways" to the world, stayed on the Billboard charts for two years and proved to be a sign of what was to come: "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and many others followed. Santana has sold more than 100 million records and reached more than 100 million fans in his concerts throughout the world. He has won 10 Grammys and 3 Latin Grammys so far. Rolling Stone, which named him one of the "greatest guitarists of all time," went on to praise how "Santana's crystalline tone and clean arcing sustain make him the rare instrumentalist who can be identified in just one note." In fact, Santana was joined by The Rolling Stones as one of the only two acts in Billboard history to score at least one Top Ten album in each decade from the 1960s on.

The thing is, this man means every note he plays. "There is no greater reward than working from your heart," Santana says, "and making a difference in the world." This great American musician has done both, and he continues to do both beautifully.

Carlos Santana was born in 1947 in Autlán de Navarro, a remote little town in Jalisco, Mexico. The middle son of seven siblings, young Carlos grew up with music and was entranced as his father played the violin in a mariachi band. "My father was a musician," he recalled many years later. "And my first memory of him was watching him playing music and watching what it did to people…I wanted that."

He learned the violin and joined his father on stage even before the family moved to Tijuana, where Carlos started learning English by watching American television. On hearing blues and rock and roll on the radio, he picked up the guitar and found his musical home. The family then moved to San Francisco, where Carlos formed his Santana Blues Band and became a part of the Haight-Ashbury scene in all its glory. The group played at the Fillmore, and it reached a global audience and instant fame with its Woodstock appearance and the documentary film that followed--Santana's rendition of "Soul Sacrifice" not only made an international hit of the recording but also hinted of the adventurous music to come. He made it to the top of the Billboard charts three times in a row with the self-titled debut Santana, followed by Abraxas and Santana III.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame beckoned in 1998, the same year he founded the Milagro Foundation, which to this day is noted for its support of humanitarian causes and particularly aiding underserved children and youth in the areas of arts, education and health. Carlos Santana himself later received the Billboard Latin Music Awards Lifetime Achievement honor as well as Billboard's Century Award.

After the trilogy of Santana, Abraxas and Santana III, change was in the air. Caravanserai displayed a sense of adventure worthy of Santana's jazz idol Miles Davis, exploring new sounds with jazz masters, including Herbie Hancock, Billy Cobham, Stanley Clarke, Leon Thomas, John McLaughlin, Airto Moreira and Wayne Shorter. Recognized suddenly as a jazz fusion master, Santana then re-embraced his Latin roots with the albums Amigos, Festival, Moonflower and Zebop!  In 1990, Spirits Dancing in the Flesh marked the end of his 22-year tenure with Columbia Records. In 1993, moving to Polygram, the miraculous Milagro and Sacred Fire--Live in South America followed.

But the best was yet to come. Santana soared into the 21st century by sweeping the 2000 Grammy Awards with Supernatural, perhaps his most spiritual and yet most spirited effort yet. Santana and Supernatural won Grammys in nine categories: Record of the Year and Song of the Year ("Smooth"); Album of the Year and Best Rock Album (Supernatural); Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals ("Smooth," with Rob Thomas); Best Pop Instrumental ("El Farol");  Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals ("Maria Maria"); Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group ("Put Your Lights On," with Everlast); and Best Rock Instrumental ("The Calling," with Eric Clapton).

Of the vast reach of the album, Santana said simply that "It's a personal invitation from me to people: remember your divinity."

Through the decades, Santana's music remains hard to pinpoint. It is "eclectic, yes," said John Roos of the Los Angeles Times. "Still, a thread runs through his multicultural, cross-generational music: the unifying power of the human spirit."

"It's the spirit that gives you vision, imagination and creativity," says Santana, who plans to publish his memoirs in both English and Spanish in 2014. "I have a passion for music that resonates from the human soul."
Carlos Santana