“The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart.
The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”
In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the scientific, economic, cultural, political, and social contributions of influential immigrants and refugees who’ve helped shape the vibrant tapestry of America. Today, we focus on the Mexican American musician Carlos Santana.
Carlos Humberto Santana Barragan was born in Jalisco, Mexico in 1947. His father, a professional mariachi violinist, served as his first muse, teaching young Carlos how to play the violin and guitar by the time he was eight. Following the family’s move to Tijuana, Santana was inspired by a local rock band, the TJ’s, eventually becoming a roadie and bass player for the group. During that time, he gained an appreciation for iconic blues musicians such as Muddy Water and B.B. King.
In the early 1960s, the family immigrated to the U.S., settling in San Francisco. Carlos Santana became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1965.
In California, Santana saw his idols play in person. He introduced himself to new styles of music, including jazz and folk. After playing on the streets for tips, Carlos tapped fellow street musicians to launch the Carlos Santana Blues Band.
The new venture mixed elements of blues, salsa, African percussion, and Latin-inspired rock. The band quickly gained a large following in the Bay area. Rebranded as just Santana, the band’s performance at Woodstock in 1969 earned a record deal with Columbia Records. The band’s debut album, Santana, went triple platinum, boosted by their top ten single, Evil Ways. Their next album again went platinum. Two more albums followed.
Santana’s earned a Grammy Award in 1987 for his solo album, Blues for Salvador. He toured heavily through the 1980s while playing to capacity crowds at internationally celebrated tours for Amnesty International and Live Aid.
Santana’s popularity waned in the early 1990s. Still, he launched a successful comeback in 1997, topping the pop charts with the hit single Smooth, featuring Matchbox 20 vocalist Rob Thomas atop his soothing guitar licks. The album Supernatural won Santana eight more Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. Known for his collaborations with other high-profile musicians, Santana won a tenth Grammy for his 2002 collaboration with Michelle Branch.
In 2009, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Billboard Latin Music Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2013.
Others we are celebrating in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month:
Franklin Chang-Díaz, astronaut/scientist from Costa Rica
Oscar de la Renta, fashion designer from the Dominican Republic
Jorge Ramos, newscaster from Mexico
Sofia Vergara, actress from Colombia