Tío Rubén Blades Is the First Latino To Receive the Harvard Arts Medal

Lead Photo: Photo of Ruben BLADES; Ruben Blades performing live on stage. Photo by Echoes/Redferns
Photo of Ruben BLADES; Ruben Blades performing live on stage. Photo by Echoes/Redferns
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Rubén Blades is already one of the most accomplished creative Latinos in the world, and has made us all (chiefly Panameños) extremely proud. Come April, the living legend will be able to plop yet another line to his résumé: First Latino to be awarded Harvard’s Arts Medal.

Blades (pronounced Blades, like a knife) got his Master of Laws degree (LLM) from Harvard in 1985 shortly after moving to the states from Panama City, where he got degrees in both law and political science. Whilst studying, he laid the foundation for what would be an unparalleled career as a singer and musician, which catapulted from working the Fania All Stars mailroom to performing at Madison Square Garden.

The “Amor y Control” singer won 17 Grammys and Latin Grammys from 1992 to now, has over 20 excellent albums in his discography (the most recent being Paraiso Road Gang, nominated for Album of the Year Latin Grammy in 2020), and was thrice nominated for an Emmy. Perhaps you’ll remember his brief appearance in “Safe House” with Denzel Washington or role in AMC’s “Fear The Walking Dead”? Yup, he’s also an actor, because why the hell not. In addition, he was formerly a scholar-in-residence at NYU Steinhardt and ran for president in Panama in 1994.

That aside, Blades is a father, husband and public servant.

“The arc of Rubén Blades’ dynamic career is truly amazing,” Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts at Harvard, said in the Ivy League’s formal announcement. Sir, tell us something we don’t know!

The Arts Medal was established in 1995 as a means to celebrate excellence amongst alumnus/a and faculty. Past recipients include architect Frank Gehry, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and writer Margaret Atwood.

“A true multi-talented artist, Rubén Blades has been an inspiration for the young generation of Latinos in the world with his unique vision and message of one America for all without divisions,” said Yosvany Terry, senior lecturer on music and director of Harvard Jazz Ensembles.

Don’t be fooled by Rubénsito’s chill nature, easygoing style and unintentionally hilarious social media presence. At 71 years young, Blades still lives within a single, perpetually drawn-out, auspicious moment.

The Harvard Arts Medal award ceremony will be held during their Arts First festival on April 30.