WASHINGTON: For Carlos Santana, music has always been a calling. He idolized his mariachi musician father as a boy in their remote hometown in Mexico and later grew up with the Woodstock generation after immigrating to San Francisco.
Now the music icon will join the luminaries receiving this year’s highest national honors for influencing American culture through the arts. Santana is among five who will receive the Kennedy Center Honors.
Fellow honorees announced Thursday include actress Shirley MacLaine and three standout musicians spanning rock, jazz and opera — Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock and Martina Arroyo. Top entertainers will salute them in a gala performance Dec. 8 to be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.
Santana is unique among those who have received the cultural prize. He began learning English by watching American television from Tijuana, Mexico, and picked up the guitar after hearing blues and rock ’n’ roll on the radio.
Santana, 66, said he was grateful to receive an award he remembers watching others receive almost every year on television with his family.
Last year, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts complained the Kennedy Center had long excluded Latinos from the honors. Of the more than 180 past honorees, only two had been Hispanic — Placido Domingo, the acclaimed Spanish tenor, and Chita Rivera, the actress and singer of Puerto Rican descent — the group said.
The criticism led to a revised selection process this year, including the solicitation of nominations from the public, and a new committee of artists and officials to help narrow the potential honorees. Santana has been a contender in recent years for his strong credentials, said show producer George Stevens Jr.
In December, President Barack Obama will host the recipients at the White House, and Secretary of State John Kerry will host a dinner for them at the State Department.