Por Jocelyn Sherman
Fiery guitarist and songwriter Jorge Santana pioneered what became known as the Latin Rock Sound. But his music and his life were also inspired by his unselfish embrace over five decades of César Chávez and the farm workers’ cause. The farm worker movement now grieves his passing on May 14 from natural causes at age 68.
Born 1951, in the city of Autlán in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Jorge was the youngest of three brothers and four sisters to immigrate as a boy to the United States, joining his father, José Santana, a mariachi musician, in San Francisco, California.
Upon graduating from Mission High School, Jorge was set on being a machinist before his career was interrupted by music. He began playing the guitar at nightclubs in San Francisco’s Mission District during the late 1960s. Meantime, the musical career of his brother, Carlos Santana, took off after he performed at the Woodstock music festival in 1969.
Jorge joined a San Francisco band initially called the Malibus. The name changed to Malo and he signed with Warner Brother Records in 1970. Jorge’s debut album won worldwide acclaim with classic hits such as “Suavecito,” “Nena” and “Café.”
“Being human to me is at the heart of what César was about because a real human person feels and is aware of all those emotions [such as] integrity, being considerate, being responsible and being accountable.”
His blazing guitar style became a signature sound not only for Latin Rock, but also other musical genres. That style propelled Jorge’s solo career and subsequent recordings following his Malo days. He continued performing and releasing solo albums over the years that included hit songs such as “Love the Way” and “Sandy” that are still popular. Jorge’s Latin Rock Sound, born in the Mission District of San Francisco, California where he was raised, helped spark a fire that spread across the globe.
With Malo’s beginning in the early 1970s, promotor Jim Cassell produced a series of concerts spotlighting Malo and Jorge as benefits for César Chávez and the United Farm Workers. Initial concerts were staged at San José State, Sacramento State and San Diego State universities. Jorge spent several more years on numerous other UFW benefit tours raising much needed funds during the struggling union’s most difficult times.
In the mid-1990s, Jorge reconnected with Abel Sánchez, a longtime friend and fellow musician from San Francisco, through a band they assembled to promote a U.S. postage stamp honoring César that was officially unveiled in 2003. In the early 2000s, Abel and Jorge wrote music and lyrics for a new song entitled, “Song for César,” and Jorge recorded a solo performance. Jorge added to the track what he felt was one of his best ever blistering solos packed with emotion. Those endeavors led to a 15-year effort to create a 90-minute full length feature documentary by the same name as the song.
Jorge was a prime supporter of Song for César, the film built around the music, musicians, artists and other key backers who were instrumental in helping César grow his movement. Jorge appeared in fundraising concerts and all-star revues of artists and musicians featured in the documentary to underwrite the project. The premiere of Song for César, planned for September, is on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jorge modestly observed how he just wanted to help his brother “Carlos and so many artists give [la] causa more acknowledgement because César Chávez and his movement are still here planning a better way for los campesinos and Latinos…Being human to me is at the heart of what César was about because a real human person feels and is aware of all those emotions [such as] integrity, being considerate, being responsible and being accountable.”
His friend Abel Sánchez observes that “as Jorge grew older and realized the importance of what César Chávez was doing for the farm workers and our people, I saw the deepening of his wanting to help educate younger generations to get more involved and use their lives to do good for our people in the tradition of César that Jorge embodied.”
Jorge Santana is survived by his wife, Donna Santana; his son Anthony Santana, Anthony’s wife Shannon and their son (Jorge’s grandson) Franklin; his daughter, Michelle (“Misha”) Santana and her husband Brandon Marsh; brothers Tony and Carlos Santana; and sisters Irma and Lety Santana, Laura Porras and María Santana Vrionis.
Video of Jorge Santana performing “Song for César” with Abel Sánchez at Fantasy Recording Studios, Berkeley, Calif: https://youtu.be/vS7GXJMZvgI. Video of Jorge Santana speaking in Spanish at the Chávez gravesite in the César E. Chávez National Monument/National Chávez Center at Keene, Calif.: https://youtu.be/xw61ZJtaD7c.
Jocelyn Sherman, United Farm Workers.
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