Of being named an honoree, Santana exclaimed via phone from his home in Las Vegas, “Can you believe it? Fortunately, I was sitting down when I heard the news, and my heart just expanded with gratitude.”
Santana said the honors carry extra meaning for him because many of his idols, including Buddy Guy, a 2012 honoree, preceded him. He also noted that he hopes the honors will have resonance with the Latino community.
“It means we are part of the fabric of the tapestry of the United States of America,” he said. “We are part of the mainstream, especially now. It seems that day by day, we are becoming not minorities but part and parcel of what America is.”
Jazz will also have its place at the Kennedy Center Honors with the selection of Herbie Hancock, 73, the pianist and band leader whose music has spanned six decades. Born in Chicago, the piano prodigy appeared with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at 11 and then taught himself jazz piano, defining the genre throughout his career. He joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963 and created the albums “Empyrean Isles” in 1964 and “Maiden Voyage” a year later — works that transformed the jazz canon. A prolific composer, he won an Oscar for the jazz score of “Round Midnight” and has won 14 Grammys since 1984.
Hancock was on the verge of tears upon hearing that he received the honor.
“To think I had been selected among that list that people, people I’ve admired over the years . . . I was shocked,” he said.
The Kennedy Center is honoring another master of the piano, Billy Joel, who became one of the most prolific pop music writers of the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s, writing such hits as “Piano Man,” “My Life” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Born in the Bronx, Joel, 64, is one of the best-selling pop artists of all time, garnering 33 Top 40 hits and selling 150 million records worldwide.
Joel was unavailable for comment because of events related to the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, but in a statement he said, “[T]o have my name added to the illustrious roster of outstanding musicians that have already been so honored is very meaningful to me.
This year’s list of honorees includes an Arlington native who left the region for New York in the 1950s and has been working steadily on screens and stages ever since. MacLaine, 79, the prolific film actor, won the Academy Award for “Terms of Endearment” and earned four nominations. Known for her longevity and range, with roles as diverse as the “The Apartment” and “Steel Magnolias,” her film and stage career has spanned seven decades. Still a working actor, she appears on “Downton Abbey” and will star with Christopher Plummer in the upcoming film “Elsa and Fred.”
Reached via phone from her home in Santa Fe, N.M., MacLaine called the honors, “a homecoming,” and says she is looking forward to “being in the White House again and seeing how this crowd really acts. I’ve played my show at the Kennedy Center a few times, so it will be nice being in the audience for a change.”
Although diversity of race and heritage is historic among this list, there’s less diversity among artistic disciplines. MacLaine’s selection marks the only theater or film actor among a slate of musicians. Dance was ignored in this year’s crop — although MacLaine spent her childhood and early career in the ballet.
Stevens compared the mix of disciplines with the 2011 honorees, when Meryl Streep was the only actor among a group of musicians.
“The criteria says that there will be diversity among disciplines, but each one cannot be recognized every year,” he said.
Although primarily a celebration, bestowing the honors is also a television production, one that’s designed to bring in high ratings for a major network. In previous years, some critics have remarked that theater translates poorly in the honors broadcast on CBS. While musical performances of any kind — rock, pop and opera — tend to impress both the live audience in the Kennedy Center Opera Hall and TV viewers, acting tributes onstage are more difficult to capture.
The honors ceremony also is the Kennedy Center’s largest fundraiser of the year, meaning Stevens and the selection committee must strike a delicate balance between choosing marquee names and deserving artists who will satisfy ratings, patrons, advocacy groups and the criterion of excellence.
Stevens denies that these factors affect the selection or that musical tributes are easier to stage for the broadcast.
“We will be honoring [theater and dance] in the future, as we have in the past,” he said.
Kennedy Center Honors
will take place Dec. 8 and will be broadcast on CBS on Dec. 29 at 9 p.m.