Carlos Santana Biography
Mexican-American guitarist Carlos Santana is leader of Santana, a band whose music uniquely blends Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms.
Born on July 20, 1947, in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, Carlos Santana moved to San Francisco in the early 1960s, where he formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. The band, later simply known as Santana, signed a contract with Columbia Records. Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Santana and his band released a string of successful albums. In 2009, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013, Santana became a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.
Singer and guitarist Carlos Augusto Alves Santana was born on July 20, 1947, in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico. His father, Jose, was an accomplished professional violinist, and Carlos learned to play the guitar at age 8. In 1955, the family moved from Autlán de Navarro to Tijuana, the border city between Mexico and California.
As a teenager, Santana began performing in Tijuana strip clubs, inspired by the American rock & roll and blues music of artists like B.B. King, Ray Charles and Little Richard. In the early 1960s, Santana moved again with his family, this time to San Francisco, where his father hoped to find work. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1965.
In San Francisco, the young guitarist got the chance to see his idols, most notably King, perform live. He was also introduced to a variety of new musical influences, including jazz and international folk music, and witnessed the growing hippie movement centered in San Francisco in the 1960s. After several years spent working as a dishwasher in a diner and playing for spare change on the streets, Santana decided to become a full-time musician. In 1966, he formed the Santana Blues Band, with fellow street musicians David Brown and Gregg Rolie (bassist and keyboard player, respectively).
With their highly original blend of Latin-infused rock, jazz, blues, salsa and African rhythms, the band—which quickly became known simply as Santana—gained an immediate following on the San Francisco club scene. The band’s early success, capped off by a memorable performance at Woodstock in 1969, led to a recording contract with Columbia Records, then run by Clive Davis.
Their first album, Santana (1969), spurred by a Top 10 single, “Evil Ways,” went triple platinum, selling more than 4 million copies and remaining on the Billboard chart for more than two years. Abraxas, released in 1970, went platinum, scoring two more hit singles, “Oye Como Va” and “Black Magic Woman.” The band’s next two albums, Santana III (1971) and Caravanserai(1972), were also critical and popular successes.
As the band’s personnel changed frequently, Santana (the band) came to be associated almost exclusively with Santana himself—who soon became the only remaining member of the original trio—and his psychedelic guitar riffs. In addition to his work with his band, Santana recorded and performed with a number of other musicians, notably drummer Buddy Miles, pianist Herbie Hancock and guitarist John McLaughlin.
Along with McLaughlin, Santana became a devoted follower of the spiritual guru Sri Chimnoy during the early 1970s. Disillusioned with the heady, drug-addled world of 1970s rock music, Santana turned to Chimnoy’s teachings of meditation and to a new kind of spiritually-oriented music, marked by a popular jazz album he recorded with McLaughlin entitled Love, Devotion, Surrender, in 1973.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Santana and his band released a string of successful albums in their unique style. Notable albums of this time period included Amigos (1976) and Zebop (1981). During the 1980s, he continued to tour and record both solo and with the band, but his popularity began to decrease with the commercial audience’s dwindling interest in the jazz/rock blend.
Nevertheless, Santana earned critical acclaim throughout the decade, particularly for the 1987 solo album Blues for Salvador, which earned the guitarist his first Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Performance. He toured extensively, playing in sold out auditoriums and on tours like LiveAid (1985) and Amnesty International (1986).
Santana left Columbia in 1991 and signed with Polydor, releasing Milagro(1992) and Sacred Fire: Live in South America (1993). Though he ended his association with Sri Chimnoy in 1982, he remained intensely spiritual, especially during his live performances. In 1994, he played at the commemorative concert at Woodstock, 25 years after his band’s transformative performance at the original festival. Under his own label, Guts and Grace, he released a collaborative album, Brothers (1994), with his brother Jorge Santana and nephew Carlos Hernandez, that was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental in 1994.
Santana’s phenomenal comeback on the pop charts began in 1997, when he re-signed the band with his first producer and mentor, Davis, then the president of Arista Records. Davis enlisted a roster of prominent musicians among them Eric Clapton, Lauryn Hill, Dave Matthews, and Wyclef Jean to perform on the legendary guitarist’s 35th album, Supernatural, released in 1999. By early 2000, the album had sold 10 million copies worldwide and spawned a No. 1 hit single, “Smooth,” featuring catchy pop lyrics sung by Rob Thomas and Santana’s Latin-spiced, electrically-charged guitar licks.
Nominated in nine categories at the Grammy Awards including Album of the Year (Supernatural), Record of the Year, and Song of the Year (both “Smooth”) Santana won in every category. With his eight awards (the award for Song of the Year went to Thomas and Itaal Shur, who wrote “Smooth”), Santana tied Michael Jackson’s 1983 record for most Grammy Awards won in a single year.
Santana followed up his award-winning album with Shaman (2002), which received many accolades. He and Michelle Branch won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals for the song “The Game of Love.” Another interesting array of collaborators appeared on his next album All That I Am (2005). Santana worked with Mary J. Blige, Los Lonely Boys, Steven Tyler and others on this album.
In 2009, Santana received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Billboard Latin Music Awards. He also debuted his own music review, Supernatural Santana: A Trip Through the Hits, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas that same year. Santana has continued to take his music on the road, playing numerous tour dates each year. In 2013, he became a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Carlos Santana lived in Marin County, California, with his wife, Deborah, whom he married in 1973, and their three children, Salvador, Stella, and Angelica. On October 19, 2007, he and his wife filed for divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences.”
Carlos Santana became engaged to Cindy Blackman, a member of his band in July 2010. The two were married in December of that year.
Carlos Santana. (2015). The biography.com website. Retrieved 12:30, Jun 27, 2015, from