Harvard Arts Medal

2021 Harvard Arts Medal Recipient

Musician, actor and politician Rubén Blades '85 HLS is the recipient of the 2021 Harvard Arts Medal, which will be awarded by Harvard University President Larry Bacow at a ceremony on Thursday, April 29, 2021. 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’ 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 recognized with Cable ACE, Independent Spirit and ALMA Awards, and also 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 the Harvard Law School Graduate Program. He ran for president of his native Panama in 1994 and served as Minister of Tourism 2004-2009. New York University Steinhardt 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.


History of the Harvard Arts Medal

The Harvard Arts Medal was established in 1995 to recognize excellence and demonstrated achievement in the arts by a Harvard or Radcliffe alumnus/a or faculty member. The medal is given to an individual who has achieved distinction in the arts and who has made a special contribution to the good of the arts, to the public good in relation to the arts, or to education. It is awarded by the Office of Governing Boards and the President of Harvard at the recommendation of a committee of faculty, alumni and administrators, which is convened by the OFA.

Past Recipients

2019 Tracy K. Smith '94
2018 Colson Whitehead '91
2017 John Lithgow ’67 ArD ’05
2016 Frank Gehry GSD '57 ArD '00
2015 Damian Woetzel MPA '07
2014 Margaret Atwood AM '62, Litt.D. '04
2013 Matt Damon '92
2012 Tommy Lee Jones '69
2011 Susan Meiselas EdM ’71
2010 Catherine Lord '70
2009 Fred Ho '79 (awarded Fall 09)
2009 John Ashbery '49 (awarded Spring 09)
2008 Joshua Redman '91
2007 John Adams ’69 MA ‘72
2006 Christopher Durang ‘71
2005 Maxine Kumin ‘46
2004 Yo-Yo Ma ‘76
2003 Mira Nair ‘79
2002 William Christie ‘66
2001 Peter Sellars ‘80
2000 John Harbison ‘60
1999 David Hays ‘52
1998 John Updike ‘54
1997 Bonnie Raitt ‘72
1996 Pete Seeger ‘40
1995 Jack Lemmon ‘47