Cindy Blackman Santana, drummer for Lenny Kravitz and Carlos Santana, rocks The Carlyle Room in DC

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Cindy Blackman Santana at The Carlyle Room (Part 1)

It takes a true powerhouse to play drums for rock icons like Lenny Kravitz and Carlos Santana.

Cindy Blackman Santana. (Courtesy Carlyle Room)

Cindy Blackman Santana rocks The Carlyle Room in Northwest D.C. this Friday and Saturday.

“We have quite a few originals and a few works by other people like Wayne Shorter that we’ve kind of revamped, so they sound a little different, which is great, we put a new spin on them,” Blackman Santana told WTOP. “This band is so great, everybody’s got such big ears that the music is really able to take a lot of journeys, twists and turns, so it keeps the excitement, it keeps the energy and everyone has a really great sound on their instrument.”

Born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, in 1959, Blackman grew up listening to an array of funk, jazz, classical and rock ‘n roll. When her family moved to Connecticut, she studied at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford and the Berklee College of Music in Boston before eventually dropping out to perform with beloved doo-wop group The Drifters.

“That was cool because it afforded me some stability, a little chance to make some cash … and just do consistent gigs, even though it wasn’t the music that I wanted to play, it was an experience, so that was great,” she said.

In 1993, after moving to New York City, she got a cross-country call from Lenny Kravitz, who invited her to Los Angeles to audition for his music video for “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” She would become his touring drummer for nearly two decades, featured in the concert documentary “Alive from Planet Earth,” filmed live in Australia.

“I met Lenny through a mutual friend [who] said, ‘I’ve got this friend Lenny Kravitz who’s been looking for a drummer.’ … I said, ‘Who’s that?’ He said, ‘The guy that used to be married to Lisa Bonet,'” she said. “I went out there and ended up auditioning, there were like 40 drummers, I played second and after I played, Lenny called off the auditions like, ‘No, I choose Cindy.’ … Seventeen years playing on the road was quite an amazing run.”

While playing with Kravitz at a music festival in Germany in 2005, she met future husband Carlos Santana.

“I was with Lenny Kravitz and Santana was playing, they played first,” Blackman Santana said. “I got a chance to meet him, but there were no sparks or anything like that, I was [already romantically] involved and I believe he was involved as well. Fast forward five years later … he was trying to figure out what drummer to get to sub. … Carlos and I just connected musically, then as we started talking, we really connected spiritually.”

He dramatically proposed to her on stage during a concert in Chicago on July 9, 2010.

“I was playing ‘Corazón Espinado’ and I took a drum solo,” Blackman Santana said. “He called me up to the front of the stage and he starts talking. … It seemed like forever, then he just looked at me and it was like a golden silence, it wasn’t a dead-zone silence, it was really golden because of the way he was looking at me. We’re in front of 20 to 30,000 people, then he just said it, ‘Cindy, will you marry me?’ I was pretty floored, but I said, ‘Yes, absolutely.'”

Fourteen years later, the husband and wife musicians are still going strong.

“It’s really great to do what you love best with the person that you love,” she said. “We’re able to share something that is so divine. Music to me is like prayer, it’s the highest form of communication, because it transcends and transverses any kind of barrier whether it’s racial, political, cultural — no matter what it is, it transcends that. So I love music and to be able to share that with Carlos is just the ultimate trip, the ultimate joy, the ultimate ride.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Cindy Blackman Santana at The Carlyle Room (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below:

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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