The Kennedy Center honored two Latinos with the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture through the arts.

Famed guitarist Carlos Santana and opera singer Martina Arroyo were joined by “Piano Man” Billy Joel, Herbie Hancock, and actress Shirley MacLaine – all saluted by President Barack Obama on Sunday with top entertainers paying tribute with performances for each honoree.

"The diverse group of extraordinary individuals we honor today haven't just proven themselves to be the best of the best," Obama said. "Despite all their success, all their fame, they've remained true to themselves — and inspired the rest of us to do the same."

The show will be broadcast on CBS network on Dec. 29.

After criticism in recent years that the Kennedy Center Honors had been excluding Latinos, the first song this year was in Spanish. Fher Olvera, the lead singer of the Mexican rock band Mana, led off with a medley of Santana tunes, "Corazon Espinado," ''Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va" for a tribute to the 66-year-old Santana.

An immigrant from Mexico who began learning English from American television, Santana is one of only a few Latinos who have received the honor so far. He first picked up the guitar after hearing blues and rock 'n' roll on the radio, and he wanted to be like his mariachi musician father. By the age of 22, he was playing at Woodstock.

In a tribute, musician Harry Belafonte joked that something should be done about Mexican immigration because he'd been overshadowed by Santana's fusion of rock, blues, African and Latino sounds.

"Now Carlos is a citizen of the world. He belongs to all of us," Belafonte said. "Carlos, you haven't transcended race and origin. Really, who of us has? You continue to be informed by the immigrant experience on the journey to the great American dream."

Before the show, Santana said he'd never been to the Kennedy Center before but the award stands apart for him because it came during the Obama administration.

"It's really supreme because the award is being given to me by a black man. If it wasn't like that, I would say just send it to me," Santana said. "But since it's Mr. Barack Obama, I definitely had to make myself present and say from the center of my heart, 'you are the embodiment of our dreams and aspirations.'"

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor led the tributes for a singer she met while a judge in New York City.

"I'm here for the diva," she said. "Now we justices are fond of using words precisely. Long before diva took on a different meaning, it meant the most celebrated of female opera singers."

Arroyo, 26, found opera while imitating the singers outside an opera workshop when she was growing up in Harlem. Soon she was signing a contract with New York's Metropolitan Opera and had a breakthrough with "Aida" in 1965. She went on to star in the great opera houses of London, Paris and Vienna.

Tony Bennett opened the tribute to Joel's long career and his songs written so often about ordinary people.

"Billy Joel is no less than the poet, performer, philosopher of today's American songbook," Bennett said.

Don Henley sang "She's Got a Way" and Garth Brooks sang a medley of "Only the Good Die Young," ''Allentown," and "Goodnight Saigon," joined by a choir of Vietnam veterans.

Rufus Wainright sang "New York State of Mind" and led the audience in a finale of Joel's original hit, "Piano Man."

The 64-year-old Joel, born in the Bronx, has been playing the piano since he was a boy, growing up on New York's Long Island. He said this honor stands apart from his six Grammys.

"This is different. It's our nation's capital," he said. "This is coming more from my country than just people who come to see me. It's a little overwhelming."

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News led the tributes for Hancock.

"I know, I'm surprised too," he said.

Hancock stands out as a "remarkable American" and "remarkable artist," O'Reilly said. Though he said he's no expert on music, "I just know what I like."

Hancock, 73, got his start at the piano at age 7 while growing up in Chicago. Soon he was playing Mozart and discovered jazz in high school. He joined the Miles Davis Quintet in 1963 and later set out to create his own sounds, fusing jazz, funk, pop, gospel, soul and the blues. He has won an Oscar and 14 Grammy Awards so far.

Jazz greats Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette and others played a tribute for Hancock's work. And Snoop Dogg took the stage and brought some rap into the mix to celebrate Hancock's influence on the birth of hip-hop.

"Herbie we love you, baby," he said. "Thank you for creating hip-hop."

For MacLaine, her longtime friend Kathy Bates took the stage and praised her work on stage and screen.

"Your humanity informs your work," she told MacLaine who was seated in a box with the president. "We think you're magnificent now and forever."

MacLaine, 79, has been acting on stage and screen for six decades ever since she began ballet at age 3. Her film debut came in 1955's "The Trouble with Harry," directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and she won the Oscar for best actress for "Terms of Endearment" in 1983. More recently she's been playing a role in "Downton Abbey" on PBS.

MacLaine's younger brother Warren Beatty also has won a Kennedy Center Honor, making them the first brother and sister to both receive the honor.

MacLaine said the award is like a homecoming because she grew up in the Washington area.

"My life as a professional was etched here in the Washington School of Ballet," she said, but now, "everyone wants to know about 'Downtown Abbey,' never mind the last 60 years."

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