Cynthia R. Blackman, better known as Cindy Blackman Santana, is an American rock and jazz drummer known for her albums, ‘Works on Canvas’ and ‘Another Lifetime.’ Female jazz percussionists are rare and she is considered to be one of the best among them. Born in Ohio, she spent her later childhood in Connecticut, where she attended the ‘Hartt School of Music’ and then studied under Alan Dawson at the ‘Berklee College of Music,’ Boston. Blackman has been creating great music since the beginning of her career as a street performer in New York during the 1980s, to the present day. Her recording career as a drummer started in the late 80s. Apart from producing critically acclaimed albums such as ‘Another Lifetime’ (2010), she has toured and recorded with other artists like Don Pullen, Hugh Masakela, Angela Bofill, Pharoah Sanders, Bill Laswell, and Cassandra Wilson among others. She was the tour drummer of Lenny Kravitz’s band for a number of years. In 2010, she was one of the artists at the all-star show, ‘Bitches Brew,’ at ‘San Francisco Jazz Festival’ and ‘New York City Winter Jazz Fest.’ Blackman married well-known guitarist Carlos Santana in 2010.
Childhood & Early Life
Blackman was born on November 18, 1959, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She spent her later childhood years in Bristol, Connecticut. She has a strong musical background as her mother and grandmother were classical musicians, while her uncle played the vibraphone. Her mother played violin in orchestras during her young days, and her grandmother was a classical pianist. Her mother took young Cindy for classical concerts.
From very early, she was attracted toward the drums and asked her mother for drums at the age of 3. At 7, she played drums for the first time at a friend’s party. Blackman got her first professional set at 13 years of age.
Her family relocated to Bristol, Connecticut, when she was 11 and she played in jazz band, concert band and orchestra during her high school years. She attended the ‘Hartt School of Music’ in Hartford, Connecticut.
At 12, she participated in local drum corps and learnt the ‘drum rudiments.’ She also learnt controlled movements of hands, which was difficult for a 12 year old.
Blackman developed interest in jazz after listening to Max Roach. She attended famous drummer Tony William’s clinic at Bob Gatzen’s local drum store, ‘Creative Music,’ and it had a lot of impact on her.
She joined the ‘Berklee College of Music’ in Boston, where she studied under Tony William’s former teacher, Alan Dawson. She left her studies after 3 semesters, and in 1982 went to New York City, where she worked as a street performer. Initially she faced resistance due to racial as well as gender prejudice, but she overcame all this with her talent. In New York, she attended performances of many great drummers, including Billy Higgins, Ed Blackwell, Roy Haynes, Art Blakey, and Louis Hayes among others.
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In 1984, Blackman was featured on New York’s ‘King’s Crown Radio’ (WKCR – FM) in Ted Curson’s ‘Jazz Stars for the Future.’ Her compositions were included in Wallace Roney’s album, ‘Verses,’ in 1987. After listening to these compositions, ‘Muse Records’ offered her a recording contract. 'Arcane,’ her debut creation as a band leader was released in 1988.
In 1993, Lenny Kravitz heard her play, and invited her to Los Angeles. She appeared for auditions along with 30 others and got selected. She recorded with him for his ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way.’ Blackman continued to play mainly as his touring drummer (Kravitz usually played his own drums while recording an album).
In 2004, she stopped playing for Kravitz’s group as she wished to concentrate on her own music. In 2014 she returned to play for Kravitz’s promotional tours for his tenth studio album, ‘Strut.’
Her first recording with a working group was for the album, ‘Telepathy,’ in 1994. Blackman’s first drumming instructional video, ‘Multiplicity,’ was brought out by ‘Warner Brothers’ publications in 1998. With her own label, ‘Sacred Sound Label,’ she released the album, ‘Music for the New Millennium,’ in 2005.
Blackman has released nine studio albums as band leader – ‘Arcane’ (1988), ‘Code Red’ (1990), ‘Telepathy’ (1992), ‘The Oracle’ (1995), ‘In the Now’ (1998), ‘Works on Canvas’ (1999), ‘Someday’ (2001), ‘Music for the New Millennium’ (2005), and ‘Another Lifetime’ (2010). Some other albums she has worked on include ‘Organ Monk’ (2012), ‘Spectrum Road’ (2012), and ‘Power of Peace’ (2017).
Her well-known 2010 album, ‘Another Lifetime,’ is a tribute to her mentor and inspiration, legendary drummer Tony Williams. It features three original tracks by Blackman and eight songs from Williams’ 1970s group, ‘Lifetime.’
Blackman enjoys playing jazz in small clubs. She tours around and conducts drum clinics. She traveled around South America in September 2007 and held clinics in Chile, Brazil and Argentina. She performed with her quartet at the ‘Art After 5’ at ‘Philadelphia Art Museum’ on November 30, 2007. At the ‘2011 Montreux Festival,’ Switzerland, she was the drummer for the combined show of Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin.
Blackman was the drummer for some of the shows of the famous Mexican-American musician Carlos Santana and they dated for a while. Santana proposed to Blackman after her drum solo during a concert at Tinley Park, Illinois, on July 9, 2010. On December 19, 2010, the two got married at Maui, Hawaii. Blackman lives in Brooklyn, New York.