Herbie Hancock, Carlos Santana, Martina Arroyo Receive Kennedy Center Honors

The jazz pioneer, Latin guitarist and opera singer, along with Billy Joel and Shirley MacLaine, were awarded the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts.

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The reception for recipients of Kennedy Center Honors at the White House in Washington, D.C.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Herbie Hancock, who discovered jazz in high school and would later join Miles Davis' band and single-handedly revolutionize the early hip-hop landscape, received the nation's highest tribute for influencing American culture through arts, the Associated Press reports.

Hancock joined Carlos Santana, Billy Joel, opera star Martina Arroyo and actress Shirley MacLaine in receiving the Kennedy Center Honors.

Hancock, 73, began playing piano at the age of 7, and soon he was tackling complex arrangements. Hancock joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963 in what many have considered Davis' second great quintet. Later he would create his own sounds as one of the first jazz pianists to embrace the synthesizer, fusing jazz, funk, pop, gospel, soul and the blues.

Hancock's best-known solo works include "Cantaloupe Island," "Watermelon Man," "Maiden Voyage," "Chameleon" and the hip-hop classic "Rockit."

Hancock has won an Oscar and 14 Grammy Awards, AP reports.

So what does all of this have to do with Bill O'Reilly?

O'Reilly, the Fox News host, led the tributes for Hancock. "I know, I'm surprised too," he said.

Hancock stands out as a "remarkable American" and "remarkable artist," O'Reilly said. Though he admitted that he was no expert on music, "I just know what I like," he said.

Jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and drummer Jack DeJohnette played a tribute to Hancock's work. Rapper Snoop Dogg even joined in on one arrangement to celebrate Hancock's influence on hip-hop.

"Herbie, we love you, baby," he said. "Thank you for creating hip-hop."

In recent years, the Kennedy Center Honors has been criticized for its exclusion of Latinos. AP reports that the first song this year was a medley of Santana tunes by Fher Olvera, the lead singer of the Mexican rock band Mana. Olvera started off with "Corazon Espinado," then ''Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" as a tribute to the 66-year-old Santana.

Carlos Augusto Alves Santana, was born in Mexico and learned the violin at the age of 5 and the guitar at the age of 8. His family moved to San Francisco where he was introduced to a variety of sounds including jazz and folk music. By the age of 22, he was playing at Woodstock.

Musician Harry Belafonte joked during Santana's Kennedy Center tribute that something should be done about Mexican immigration because he'd been overshadowed by Santana's fusion of rock, blues, African and Latino sounds, AP reports.

"Now Carlos is a citizen of the world. He belongs to all of us," Belafonte said. "Carlos, you haven't transcended race and origin. Really, who of us has? You continue to be informed by the immigrant experience on the journey to the great American dream."

According to AP, before the show, Santana said he'd never been to the Kennedy Center, but this award stands apart for him because it came during the Obama administration.

"It's really supreme because the award is being given to me by a black man. If it wasn't like that, I would say just send it to me," Santana said. "But since it's Mr. Barack Obama, I definitely had to make myself present and say from the center of my heart, 'you are the embodiment of our dreams and aspirations.' "

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the tributes for Martina Arroyo, whom she met while she was a judge in New York City.

"I'm here for the diva," she said. "Now, we justices are fond of using words precisely. Long before diva took on a different meaning, it meant the most celebrated of female opera singers."

Arroyo's father is Dominican and mother is black. She was born in Harlem and didn't believe that she could be an opera singer as she didn't see anyone that looked like her onstage. Arroyo is considered to be a part of an instrumental group of performers who helped break down the barriers of racial prejudice in the opera world.

Shirley MacLaine, 79, has been acting for six decades, ever since she began ballet at age 3. She has starred in several films and received numerous awards for her work. Currently she's been playing a role in Downton Abbey on PBS, AP reports.

"My life as a professional was etched here in the Washington School of Ballet," she said, but now, "everyone wants to know about Downtown Abbey, never mind the last 60 years."

In a tribute to Billy Joel, Don Henley sang "She's Got a Way," and Garth Brooks sang a medley of "Only the Good Die Young," ''Allentown" and "Goodnight, Saigon," joined by a choir of Vietnam veterans.

Rufus Wainright sang "New York State of Mind" and led the audience in a finale of Joel's original hit, "Piano Man," AP reports.

The show will be broadcast Dec. 29.

Read more at Associated Press.

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