By Angela Penny
Internationally acclaimed musician and human rights advocate, Carlos Santana received the 2010 Mayor’s Art Award from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom on March 18.
More than 300 invited guests filled the regal Green Room of the War Memorial Opera House for the two-hour ceremony sponsored by the San Francisco Examiner.
Santana’s family moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles in 1961. His father was a violinist in a mariachi band.
The Santana band made their debut at the Fillmore West theater on June 16, 1968.
The band achieved international acclaim as part of Woodstock ’69 and released their self-titled first album that same month, which became a massive hit and included their first top 10 Billboard hit “Evil Ways.”
During the ceremony Newsom noted that the public education Santana received in San Francisco contributed to his success. Santana graduated from Mission High School in 1965 after attending James Lick Middle School.
“Carlos is one of the greatest artists of our time and any time,” Newsom said before presenting the award. “He is an international superstar who keeps his heart in San Francisco and has the humanity of a social worker.”
In 1998 Santana and his wife Deborah established the Milagro Foundation, which has granted over $3 million to nonprofit programs supporting under-served youth in the areas of arts, education and health.
“I am honored to be given this wonderful award from the city that helped launch my life as a musician,” Santana said. “I am proud to get it from the city of San Francisco, which will always be my home.”
At the ceremony, Santana expressed his allegiance to his roots in the San Francisco music scene of the 1960s and 1970s.
“San Francisco is not afraid to question authority,” he said. “We didn’t sanction the war in Vietnam and we don’t sanction this war. In my heart, I’ll always be a hippie, a rainbow warrior. We’re different in San Francisco.”
In his speech he warned against the destructive nature of ego.
“When you perceive that you’re special, you get in trouble,” he said.
Santana ended his acceptance speech with a metaphor.
“Music is the water, people are the flowers and I’m a hose,” he said.
Futuro Picante, a youth Latin jazz ensemble lead by Jose Leon, music director for the San Francisco Mission Cultural Center for the Latino Arts, provided an energetic performance before the ceremony. Later, local musician Martin Luther McCoy accompanied them to play “Somebody Superstar,” a tribute to Santana.
“As a child I played for Mayor George Moscone in this room and 30 years later I’m playing for Mayor Newsom and Carlos Santana,” McCoy said.
After the ceremony, Santana was escorted around the room to take pictures with the caterers, members of Futuro Picante and various guests.
“As a bay area native and a true legend in the Hispanic community, Carlos Santana has educated us with his music for many years,” said Touchè Contreras, a City College student and music director for KCSF 90.9 FM. “He continues to enlighten us in other ways. Both politically and geographically, the Mayor’s Art Award is well deserved and a true honor to both Carlos Santana and the Latin community.”
Newsom declined to name his favorite Santana song.
“You never say that in front of the artist,” he said. “It’s like asking which is your favorite child. They all embody the spirit of Carlos and San Francisco.”