As the first Icon to be honored at the BMI Latin Awards, Carlos Santana has enjoyed a long and varied career. First exploding into the popular consciousness via his incendiary performance at the original Woodstock festival, Santana’s music has remained relevant through nearly 30 years of trends and fashion. A deeply spiritual man, Santana also regularly devotes himself to charitable works, most recently at a February 11 tsunami relief concert in Hollywood
The BMI Icon honors a creator who has been a “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers”; Santana was so honored at the organization’s Latin Awards, held April 21 at The Ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas, the first time the awards have been held in that city.
The Mexican native first came to the United States in the early 1960s, arriving in San Francisco as an established professional guitarist. Combining his talents with several like-minded players, he formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966, with the band’s name shortened to Santana soon afterwards. A high-profile four-night stand at the city’s legendary Fillmore West in 1968 led to a contract with Columbia Records, with its self-titled first release coming out the same month as the band’s Woodstock gig. Santana stayed on the charts for two years, led by singles “Evil Ways” and “Jingo.” Follow-up album Abraxas (1970) hit number one, spawning the Top 10 hits “Black Magic Woman” and “Oye Como Va.” By the end of that year, the group had added its seventh member, guitarist Neal Schon (who, with original Santana member Gregg Rolie, would eventually leave to form Journey). Hit albums Santana III and Caravanserai followed.
By this time, Carlos Santana had become deeply involved with guru Sri Chinmoy, adopting the name “Devadip” (meaning “the eye, the lamp, and the light of God”) and recording the album Love Devotion Surrender with fellow Chinmoy devotee John McLaughlin of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This project, along with parts of Caravanserai , represented a shift in Santana’s playing toward a more fluid, jazz style, a shift made even more obvious by 1974’s Illuminations , recorded with John Coltrane’s widow Alice.
Several group albums found the restless spirit trying on a number of styles (as well as an ever-shifting group of sidemen), resulting in such Top 40 singles as “Winning,” “Hold On,” “You Know That I Love You” and a cover of The Zombies’ “She’s Not There.” In 1987 he won his first Grammy Award (Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the title track of his solo album Blues for Salvador).
Following several other albums and record labels, in 1999 Santana signed with Arista Records, headed by Clive Davis, who had originally signed the group to Columbia. The musical masterminds combined their talents to produce Supernatural , easily Santana’s biggest-selling album (10 million and counting), which won eight Grammys along the way (including Album of the Year and Record and Song of the Year for “Smooth,” his collaboration with matchbox 20’s Rob Thomas.
Supernatural’s all-star lineup strategy (which included Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews and Wyclef Jean) was repeated with 2002’s Shaman , another best-seller whose guest lineup included Thomas, Michelle Branch, Seal and even Placido Domingo. (The album resulted in another Grammy, this time for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals, for the Branch-sung “The Game of Love.”) Those accomplishments were capped by Santana’s being named the Latin Grammys’ “Person of the Year” in 2004.
Of receiving that award — as well as the long list of other recognitions he’s received — Santana remains typically humble. “I’ve been repeating for a long time that I am a beam of light that comes from the mind of God,” he told the Associated Press; as a result, “I don’t have to squirm or interrupt people when they give me a compliment. I can say, ‘Thank you so much. And I’m very happy that my presence can bring joy into your life.’”
Santana has also maintained his charitable work, donating over $2 million from his Shaman tour to fight AIDS in Africa.
And of course there’s the music: Santana is currently working on a number of projects, including an all-instrumental album and another collaborative effort that may include Sting and Los Lonely Boys. “It’s like seven to 10 things that I’m working on, but I’m not confused or scattered,” he says.