Music icon Carlos Santana kicked off Occidental College’s 119th academic year on Aug. 31, when he received an honorary doctor of music, addressed the Class of 2009, and performed with his son’s Salvador Santana Band.
It’s a great joy to receive this prestigious honor," Santana told nearly 2,000 faculty, staff and students attending this year’s convocation on Patterson Field. "It means a lot." He became the latest in a series of musicians honored by the College, including cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, singer/songwriter Ray Charles, and conductor Zubin Mehta.
Santana credited his musical rise to the influences of such luminaries as Miles Davis, Clive Davis, John Lee Hooker and Bill Graham. "To this day I feel grateful that the things that they taught me are working," Santana said. After barely finishing high school while growing up in the Bay Area, Santana said he looked inward, seizing on a God-given talent for music.
"God only made one of you, just one of you for life," he said. "It’s important that you grab that when you’re alone and appreciate it, because when you feel gratitude … you can will things to happen. It’s not magic, it’s not a trick, it’s not a formula, it’s not a gadget or a gimmick. The more I can invite you to take the time to visit your own heart, then you can touch other people’s hearts and give people chills with your words (or) whatever gift you have. Everyone is gifted here in your own supreme way. My gift is I love piercing people’s hearts with the sound, making people dance laugh and cry.
"My dedication to healing music has without a doubt always been my first priority," he added. "Healing music has the power to ignite, infuse, activate, integrate and transform the listener into a place where there is no space and time, no good and evil, right or wrong, into a place of wonderment. I hope that each day you get lost in wonderment. The way I describe wonderment is having the courage to leap backwards into the unknown."
Best known around the world for the group that bears his name, Santana’s unique fusion of rock, jazz, blues, soul and Latin idioms has sold more than 90 million records, garnered 10 Grammy Awards, and earned him a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Less well known is his long history of philanthropy, and the donation of millions of dollars to promote the welfare of underserved children, the fight against AIDS/HIV, and higher education.
A copy of Santana’s 1999 album "Supernatural," together with Robert Walser’s "Popular Music Analysis: Ten Apothegms and Four Instances," were sent to 440 first-year students over the summer.
The CD, article and accompanying study guide were meant to introduce students to ways and means of applying critical analysis to music. Kenyon Chan, interim president of Occidental, said music is a critical component of the liberal arts experience. "Think critically and define new boundaries of knowledge and creative form," Chan urged members of the Class of 2009. "To all of you here, I say seize the day."
Santana didn’t leave without imparting a few more words of advice. "Take the time to soak yourself with your own light. Don’t waste your time with things outside of yourself. Follow your light more than anything else and you will have possibilities, opportunities and supreme success."