Rock musician Carlos Santana and opera singer Martina Arroyo were among the artists feted as Kennedy Center Honorees on Sunday evening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Santana and Arroyo were recognized for their contribution to the arts at the 36th annual celebration attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, which also honored composer Herbie Hancock, singer/pianist Billy Joel and actress Shirley MacLaine through tribute performances and congratulatory addresses.
Santana, 66, was the first to receive his award, and was the subject of a speech by singer and activist Harry Belafonte took to the stage to honor the Latin legend.
“Carlos, you haven’t transcended race and religion – really, who of us does?” Belafonte said of the “Black Magic Woman” singer. “But you’ve continued to be informed by the immigrant experience and the journey to the great American dream.
“Even without the music, you Carlos, are an essential humanitarian…but with the music, well, you’re a god. …Your music tells us to be happy…to move mountains. It tells us to love.”
Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor took to the stage to praise Arroyo, 76, the daughter of a Puerto Rican father and African American mother.
“Martina always had the raw talent – a soaring, lyrical, captivating voice that transports her listeners,” said Sotomayor at the ceremony, which will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29. I’m convinced Martina’s voice couldn’t be that beautiful if it weren’t connected to a heart that’s beautiful. She is the most giving person.”
The Kennedy Center Honors recognizes lifetime achievement to entertainers who have contributed to American culture through their art.
Following criticism last year that only two of the more than 180 artists honored have been Hispanic since the first awards were bestowed in 1978, the Kennedy Center Honors revised its selection process in May of this year. Now, Santana and Arroyo join Placido Domingo (2000) and Chita Rivera (2002) as the only Latinos recipients of the Honors to date.
“The diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven’t just proven themselves to be the best of the best,” Obama said of the 2013 Honorees.
“Despite all their success, all their fame, they’ve remained true to themselves – and inspired the rest of us to do the same.”