*Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock and opera star Martina Arroyo were awarded the nation’s highest honor Sunday for influencing American culture through the arts.
The musicians joined singer-songwriter Billy Joel and actress Shirley MacLaine in receiving the Kennedy Center Honors. All of them have been playing music, dancing or singing since they were children — and they have never stopped.
President Barack Obama saluted the honorees Sunday night at a show that will be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.
“The diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven’t just proven themselves to be the best of the best,” Obama said. “Despite all their success, all their fame, they’ve remained true to themselves — and inspired the rest of us to do the same.”
On Saturday night, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the honorees for a black-tie dinner at the State Department.
Santana, 66, a Mexican immigrant who began learning English from American television, is one of only a few Latinos who have received the honor so far. Kerry said Santana brought the beauty of Latin culture and its rhythms and influences to the American mainstream.
“We love the music you made, not because it’s Latin, but frankly because it is so very American,” Kerry said.
Hancock, 73, got his start at the piano at age 7 while growing up in Chicago. Soon he was playing Mozart and discovered jazz in high school. He joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963 and later set out to create his own sounds, fusing jazz, funk, pop, gospel, soul and the blues. He has won an Oscar and 14 Grammy Awards.
Arroyo found opera while imitating the singers outside an opera workshop when she was growing up in Harlem. Soon she was signing a contract with New York’s Metropolitan Opera and had a breakthrough with “Aida” in 1965. She went on to star in the great opera houses of London, Paris and Vienna.
Opera star Jessye Norman said Arroyo, now 76, has a voice “that makes you happy to be alive, just to be in her audience.”