by marsala rypka
Having captured his heart years ago, legendary guitarist Carlos Santana introduces his wife, Cindy Blackman Santana, as his queen when they perform together onstage at the House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Of course, not only is she one of the top jazz drummers in the world who can improvise at the highest level, she’s also the perfect blend of style, sensuality and spirituality.
It is an irresistible combination that resulted in Santana proposing onstage after Blackman’s virtuoso drum solo on July 9, 2010, which was soon followed by a wedding at The Ritz-Carlton on the Hawaiian island of Maui on Dec. 19 of the same year.
“We were swimming in each other’s light,” said Santana. “Cindy helps me praise God in every conceivable way with grace and honor. We share a fullness of expression that’s a whole different level of intimacy, or in-to-me-see, that allows us to see the spark of the divine in each other.”
Self-confidence is another attractive quality Blackman Santana has possessed her entire life.
“Lots of kids have an identity crisis growing up, but I’ve always known who I am,” she said. “I came out of the womb moving my hands, patting out rhythms.
“I had strong women in my life who were great role models. I get my work ethic from my mom, Ghita, who was as gorgeous as a movie star and classically trained on the violin. She was a secretary, a model and she also sold Fashion 220 cosmetics.
“She has an incredible sense of fashion,” Blackman Santana added. “She was my Audrey Hepburn, my Dorothy Dandridge and my Lena Horne. But even though she dressed to the nines, she never got caught up in her ego or let the superficial overshadow the spiritual.
“My mom’s mom was also a style influencer. She played classical piano, and as a child, I thought it was so cool that she bought a silver car to match her silver couch. My dad’s mother was more conservative. She only had one Sunday dress, but she was always immaculate.”
Blackman Santana said her taste in clothes is eclectic.
“I love the classic 1950s, the mod ’60s and the funky ’70s. I loved the styles of Jackie O, Pam Grier and Emma Peel, the British spy (whom) Diana Rigg played on “The Avengers.” Peel was a no-nonsense, kick-butt character with class and integrity, who wore these fabulous jumpsuits with boots.
“I still have a gold jumpsuit with a hood and built-in belt I bought in the ’80s when I was playing Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. I put it on the other day, and I said, ‘Carlos, you’re never going to guess how long I’ve had this.’”
Another hero was her sister, Anasa, who is six years older.
“She was the first person in our little village in Yellow Springs, Ohio, to wear an afro,” said Blackman Santana. “One day, she came walking down the street while I was playing outside, and I saw all this hair bouncing, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s my sister. I want to be just like her.’”
She said she wore her afro just as proudly when it wasn’t in style as when it was.
“I had a Farrah Fawcett flip for a while in the ’80s, but I prefer my hair natural and comfortable. I’m here to be Cindy, not who others want me to be,” Blackman Santana said.
Growing up, she was more into sports than fashion.
“My older brother, Tony, was disappointed when he didn’t get a younger brother, so he taught me to play baseball, softball, soccer and basketball, which was my favorite,” she said. “I fell in love with track and field. I ran relays, did the high jump and held the record for the javelin. Maybe all that drumming I did since I was 7 (years old) strengthened my arm.”
Blackman Santana said her joy is music, and her indulgence is shopping.
“I don’t have any other vices. I don’t smoke, drink, do drugs or party. I love to shop wherever I am, whether it’s Paris, Rome, Milan, Cape Town (South Africa) or Ghana (West Africa). But it’s not about how expensive something is; it might be something sentimental that touches my heart.
“One of Carlos and my favorite cities is Taipei (Taiwan). There’s a luxury fashion house there we both love called Shiatzy Chen. It’s like the Channel of Taiwan. They only use the best materials: the finest lace from France, silk from Asia, textiles from Italy. The stitching, the buttons, every detail is beautiful.”
Blackman Santana said she always has preferred quality over quantity; a timeless outfit over something faddish.
“In my closet, there’s everything from tight jeans to flowing gowns. I love French lace, leather pants, silk blouses. I like designers like Roberto Cavalli, Missoni and some Valentino. I love Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo; and, of course, the shoes and boots from Carlos’ line that are so comfortable I can walk in them and look stylish at the same time.”
Blackman Santana, who has long legs that go on forever, said boots are a staple in her wardrobe.
“I have gold boots, blue patent leather and blue suede boots, brown and black boots in every length, from short to thigh-high,” she explained. “I even have a funky pair of L.L. Bean rain boots I adore.
“Carlos laughed when I bought him a pair,” she recalled, “but we also have a home in California, and I said, ‘It’s sunny today, but when we get those torrential rains, I don’t want you to ruin your nice shoes.’ A week later, it poured, and he was glad he had them.”
Another one of her go-to items is a leather jacket.
“You can wear it with a T-shirt, lace or silk blouse, and a skirt; a dress; even a pair of sweatpants, and you look pulled together,” she said.
“I like prints and colors, but not when they clash. Colors affect your psyche. I gravitate to different tones depending on my mood. Earth tones, like browns and greens, reds, electric blue, jet black and magenta, really turn me on.”
Blackman Santana has her share of jewelry, too, but the pieces she loves most are those that have a special meaning and are gifts, like her wedding ring and the Hublot watch Carlos gave her for her birthday.
“I mostly wear silver, but I do wear gold; and I love pearls, which are natural and timeless,” she said. “I’m a triple water sign. My sun is in Scorpio, and my moon and rising signs are Pisces and Cancer, which means I feel the life energy of water, which is where pearls come from.”
But as much as she loves beautiful things, she said if she had to do without, it wouldn’t change her spirit.
“I played music with a trio or quartet in New York on the corner of 42nd and Broadway, and I made enough to pay for food and sometimes my rent,” she said.
“I’ve also played in stadiums for thousands of people with Lenny Kravitz and with my husband, Carlos Santana. I’ve had very little, and I’ve been blessed with a lot. But the thing that nourishes my soul is finding ways to express love in small and big ways because, to me, that is what God is all about.
“It could be as simple as smiling at someone or helping them recognize their own self-worth,” she continued. “I’ve given clothes to a shelter for battered women and donated drum gear to kids in school.
“There are lots of worthy organizations to support, like Dress for Success that prepares women for job interviews so they can get back on their feet; Three Square food bank that feeds the hungry; Casa de Luz, which serves the poor and works to break the cycle of crime and poverty; and The Milagro Foundation, which Carlos has donated a portion of the proceeds from his footwear to ever since it was founded in 2001 to help underserved and vulnerable children around the world. Sharing what I have and being a channel for good, helps me feel worthy of the gifts God has given me.”
Life is busy and fulfilling for this electrifying couple. Santana currently is celebrating five years of performing his show at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay, and tickets for An Intimate Evening with Santana are available for his multiple-date engagement in May.
Besides playing with her husband, Blackman Santana is releasing a solo album later this year. She also just completed an album produced by Santana with Ron Isley. The collaboration holds special significance for the duo because the first dance at their wedding was to Ron Isley singing, “The Look of Love.”
“The moment I met Carlos, there was an instantaneous spark. It was like going to a gas stove and turning on the flame. You didn’t have to get a match and light the pilot; it just went on,” she said.
“There was no angst, just a great flow of energy. I was like, ‘Wow! I hadn’t expected to find my glorious partner.’ And I was OK with that. I was prepared to enjoy the gifts I did have. Fortunately, God orchestrated this divine plan.”
Photos by Jerry Metellus, assistants Unico Clemente, Mikey McNuffy
Videography by Kin Lui
Hair & Makeup by Zee Clemente
Styling by Christie Moeller; assistant Tiffany Weekes
Clothing provided by Neiman Marcus in Fashion Show
Special thanks to Tom Rutan
Shot on location at Palms Recording Studio