Music
7:38 pm
Wed November 20, 2013

Cuban-American Jazz Legend Receives Presidential Honor

Arturo Sandoval (left) and his hero and mentor, jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.
Arturo Sandoval (left) and his hero and mentor, jazz great Dizzy Gillespie.
Credit arturosandoval.com

This week, President Obama bestowed the nation's highest civilian honor on 16 celebrated Americans, one of them a Cuban-American widely considered one of the world's greatest living jazz artists.

The cover of Arturo Sandoval's 1991 album "Flight to Freedom" features a photo of the musician wearing a smart suit and a radiant smile, his right hand gripping his trumpet, his left curled into a triumphant fist.  Just one year before the release of that album,  Sandoval was living in Cuba under the Castro regime. 

He was born outside Havana and considered legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie his greatest musical influence.  In time, he gained international fame not only as a trumpet player, but as a pianist and composer.  In 1990, Sandoval was granted political asylum by the United States and became a U.S. citizen nearly a decade later, winning nine Grammy awards along the way.  He also made several appearances at the White House. 

Sixty-four-year-old Sandoval returned to the East Room Wednesday to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The honor was established 50 fifty years ago by President John F. Kennedy to acknowledge individuals who have made notable contributions to American society.