Bill Joel and Carlos Santana — along with actress Shirley MacLaine — will receive this year’s Kennedy Center Honors, considered the nation’s highest honor for those who influence American culture through the arts.
The honorees were announced Thursday.
In December, President 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. Top entertainers will salute the honorees in a gala performance Dec. 8 to be broadcast Dec. 29 on CBS.
In an interview, Santana said he was very grateful and happy to be in the company of luminaries and to receive an award he remembers watching almost every year with his family. The 66-year-old musician who was born in a small, remote town in Mexico and immigrated with his family to San Francisco said he set out to bridge cultures and music styles.
“I guess people understand that Santana is not just a Mexican guitar player — I bring a collective-consciousness awareness agenda with me,” he said. “I grew up with the generation of Woodstock and Bob Marley, ‘One Love,’ and ‘Imagine,’ John Lennon. I am one of them, and we don’t do what we do to be commercial or to be popular or to be cute. It’s not entertainment or show business for us. For us, it’s a calling.”
As a Mexican immigrant, Santana is unique among those who have received the cultural prize. Last year, the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts complained the Kennedy Center had long excluded Latinos. Of the more than 180 past honorees, only two have been Hispanic, 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 helped narrow the potential honorees.
Santana, who swept the 2000 Grammy Awards in nine categories with his album “Supernatural,” said more mainstream institutions should be recognizing Latino artists.
“Piano Man” Billy Joel, one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, said he was honored to be named a Kennedy Center honoree. Joel, the pianist, singer and songwriter behind numerous unforgettable hits, including “Uptown Girl,” ”Allentown” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” has devoted his life to music.
In a written statement, he said he was honored to join the roster of outstanding musicians who came before. “But to be chosen for this special award essentially for doing what I love most amazes me more than anything,” he said.
Fresh’s Tommy McFLY contributed to this report.