Harvard University to honor musician Rubén Blades LL.M. ’85
Musician, actor and politician Rubén Blades LL.M. ‘85 is the recipient of the 2020 Harvard Arts Medal, which will be awarded by Harvard University President Larry Bacow at a ceremony on Thursday, April 30, 2020, at 5:30 pm at Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy Street, Cambridge. The ceremony, presented by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and the Harvard University Board of Overseers, will include a discussion with Blades moderated by Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor and 2017 Harvard Arts Medal recipient John Lithgow ’67, ArD ’05 and performances by the Harvard Jazz Band led by Yosvany Terry, Senior Lecturer on Music and Director of Harvard Jazz Ensembles. This is the official opening event for ARTS FIRST, Harvard University’s annual festival showcasing and celebrating student, faculty and staff creativity in the arts April 30-May 3 at venues throughout campus.
“Rubén Blades has infused the many aspects of his remarkable career with deep humanity and passionate intensity,” says President Bacow. “He is a phenomenal musician, a talented actor, and a devoted public servant, and we look forward to welcoming him back to campus and to celebrating his manifold achievements in the arts.”
Established in 1995, the Harvard Arts Medal honors a distinguished Harvard or Radcliffe graduate or faculty member who has achieved excellence in the arts and has made a contribution through the arts to education or the public good. Among the medal’s previous 26 recipients, eight have been musicians, including composer John Adams ’69 MA ’72, singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt ’72, cellist Yo-Yo Ma ’76, and saxophone player Joshua Redman ’91.
“The arc of Rubén Blades’ dynamic career is truly amazing,” says Jack Megan, Director of the Office for the Arts at Harvard. “He is an extraordinary musical artist – one of the most influential salsa musicians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, as well as an inspirational actor and political activist. We are delighted to honor Rubén Blades. His generosity, musicianship and activism are models of creativity and commitment for our students and for all of us.”
Rubén Blades was at the center of the New York salsa revolution in the 1970s. His landmark albums in classic Afro-Cuban salsa are marked by rock, jazz, pan-Latin, and worldwide influences. Blades has collaborated with rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, reggaeton, and salsa artists, and has composed hundreds of songs and dozens of hits, known for their eloquent, socially charged lyrics, colorful characters and memorable melodies. His 2017 album Salsa Big Band was named the Latin Grammy Album of the Year. He is the subject of the 2018 award-winning documentary Yo No Me Llamo Rubén Blades directed by Abner Benaim. He has won 17 Grammy and Latin Grammy Awards, and has had a recurring role on the AMC TV series Fear the Walking Dead.
Blades will join the Chick Corea Spanish Heart Band summer tour in 2020 as vocalist. Upcoming album projects include an album of boleros with the Editus group, a production with his songs adapted to Brazilian music with Boca Livre and the album Salsa Big Band Vol I and II, with Roberto Delgado.
“A true multi-talented artist, Rubén Blades has been an inspiration for the young generation of Latinos in the world with his unique vision and message of one America for all without divisions,” says Yosvany Terry. “I grew up listening to him because he was an alternative in main stream with his contagious music and engaged lyrics.”
Blades’ onscreen work includes: Hands of Stone opposite Robert De Niro, and Safe House opposite Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds. Blades has played memorable roles in films with such acclaimed directors as Robert Redford in The Milagro Beanfield War, Robert Rodriguez in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Spike Lee in Mo’ Better Blues, Alan Pakula in The Devil’s Own, and Jack Nicholson in The Two Jakes. He was nominated for three Emmys for his roles in the TV movies The Josephine Baker Story, Crazy from the Heart and The Maldonado Miracle. His work has been honored with Cable ACE, Independent Spirit and ALMA Awards, and honored with the Raúl Juliá HOLA Founders Award and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s Arts Award.
Beyond Blades’ artistic success, he holds degrees in political science and law from the University of Panama, and an LLM from Harvard Law School. He ran for president of his native Panama in 1994 and served as Minister of Tourism 2004-2009. New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development appointed him Scholar in Residence for the 2018/2019 academic year. The Loeb Music Library at Harvard University formed The Rubén Blades Archives in 2008 to collect his work and papers.
Admission to the medal ceremony is free but tickets are required, available in person at the Harvard Box Office at the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Campus Center, 1350 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, or by calling 617.496.2222 or visiting www.boxoffice.harvard.edu (phone and online ticket orders are subject to service fees). Ticket distribution for Harvard affiliates (2 per person, with valid ID) begins Wednesday, April 15; ticket distribution for the public (2 per person) begins Friday, April 17. Some remaining tickets may be available at the door one hour prior to event start time. Tickets valid until 5:15 p.m. on day of event.