Carlos Santana and Cindy Blackman conjure Jimi Hendrix with national anthem before the NBA Finals

Cindy Blackman and Carlos Santana
Carlos Santana and Cindy Blackman perform before Game 2 of the NBA Finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers in Oakland on June 5.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

Guitarist Carlos Santana tried to bring a little Woodstock to Oracle Arena in Oakland on Sunday night.

Born in Mexico but based in the Bay Area since grade school, Santana was a natural choice to kick things off with “The Star Spangled Banner” at the NBA Finals, the sort of gig at which teams regularly look to local favorites to charge up the home crowd.

There’s a lot about this year’s finals that look familiar -- the teams, the results (the Warriors have thus far handled the Cleveland Cavaliers with relative ease) and even Santana, who performed before last year’s Game 2. But this time he was joined by his wife, Cindy Blackman, a force behind the drums who should look familiar to music fans.


Maybe her biggest splash came early in her career as part of Lenny Kravitz’s band (that’s her beating the daylights out of the drums in the glitzy thunderdome of Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” video). She backed Kravitz for almost 15 years, but she’s got a long pedigree as a jazz artist, having performed with Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson and Cassandra Wilson.

In addition to her own recordings, Blackman has also performed as part of a 2010 tribute to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” at the SFJAZZ Festival. In 2012, she joined bassist Jack Bruce to pay tribute to the late drum master Tony Williams with the group Spectrum Road, an explosive fusion ensemble that also featured guitarist Vernon Reid and keyboardist John Medeski.

So how did performance by Santana and Blackman go over? It fell well short of the pyrotechnic heights of Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of decades ago (as most any attempt would) or the culture-shifting revolution delivered to NBA audiences by Marvin Gaye back in 1983. Still, Santana’s take was a nice change of pace to get a nationally televised game started, and ultimately offered more buildup and tension than the game, as it turned out.

On Twitter, the reception was a bit mixed, but some were just happy to learn that Santana was in good health when they saw his name trending -- a reasonable concern given the losses we’ve seen in 2016.




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For the Record: Tuesday, 8:27 a.m. An earlier version of this article referenced Santana as playing with his son before Game 2 of the NBA Finals in 2015. He performed solo.

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