When you think of Lenny Kravitz, you probably picture his signature sunglasses, effortlessly cool, and those unforgettable guitar riffs.
But behind every great rockstar is a rhythm that keeps the music alive – enter Cindy Blackman Santana, Lenny Kravitz’s drummer.
This unsung hero not only provides the backbone to Kravitz’s biggest hits but also brings a unique flair and energy to the stage.
Whether you’re a die-hard Kravitz fan or just someone who appreciates the art of drumming, you’ll want to know more about Cindy’s talent behind the drum kit. Let’s dive into the world of beats, rhythms, and the heartbeat of Kravitz’s music.
Cindy Blackman Santana – Lenny Kravitz Drummer 1998-2003
Born on November 18, 1959, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Cindy Blackman was drawn to the world of rhythm from a young age. By the tender age of 7, she was already experimenting with drumming, inspired by the beats she heard on the radio and the records her parents played.
Her family’s move to Bristol, Connecticut, further exposed her to a diverse range of musical influences. It was during these formative years that Cindy decided to pursue drumming seriously, setting her sights on becoming a professional musician.
Cindy’s passion for drumming was evident. She started her formal training at the age of 13, studying under local jazz drummers. By the time she was 16, she was already performing live, showcasing her skills in local clubs and venues.
After high school, Cindy moved to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music. Here, she honed her skills and networked with fellow musicians. Her dedication and talent didn’t go unnoticed. Soon, she was playing with prominent jazz musicians, making a name for herself in the jazz circuit.
The 90s brought a significant shift in Cindy’s career. In 1993, she joined Lenny Kravitz’s band, a collaboration that would introduce her to a broader audience.
She played drums for him for around seven years, becoming particularly well-known for her work on his song “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” However, she is not the current drummer for Lenny Kravitz. Cindy left the band in the early 2000s.
The exact reasons for her departure have not been widely publicized. Still, it’s worth noting that musicians often move between projects and collaborations throughout their careers.
After her time with Kravitz, Cindy continued her solo career, collaborated with other artists, and eventually joined her husband, Carlos Santana, in some of his musical projects.
Cindy had many notable performances, but here are the top five.
- “Are You Gonna Go My Way” Tour (1993-1994): Cindy’s drumming was a standout during this world tour, especially in the title track “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” Her powerful beats and energetic stage presence were key to the song’s live renditions.
- MTV Video Music Awards (1993): Cindy’s performance alongside Lenny Kravitz at this event was memorable. The duo’s rendition of “Are You Gonna Go My Way” is still talked about by fans and critics alike.
- VH1’s “Storytellers” (1999): Cindy and the band delivered a raw, intimate performance, giving fans a deeper insight into the stories behind Kravitz’s songs.
- Woodstock ’99: Cindy’s drumming was a highlight of Lenny Kravitz’s set at this iconic festival, showcasing her versatility and skill.
- “Black Velveteen” Live Performances: Throughout the late ’90s, Cindy’s drum solos during live performances of “Black Velveteen” were a testament to her prowess and became a fan favorite.
Aside from remarkable performances, here are her top 5 notable collaborations. I made the list according to the time she made the collab.
- Lenny Kravitz – “5” (1998): Beyond live performances, Cindy’s drumming was integral to the studio recordings of this multi-platinum album, especially on tracks like “Fly Away” and “I Belong to You.”
- Wallace Roney – “Obsession” (1990): Cindy showcased her jazz roots in this collaboration with trumpeter Wallace Roney, contributing her distinct drumming style to the album.
- Joss Stone – “The Soul Sessions” (2003) and “Mind Body & Soul” (2004): Cindy’s drumming added a unique touch to Joss Stone’s soulful tracks on these albums.
- Jack Bruce, Vernon Reid, John Medeski – “Spectrum Road” (2012): This supergroup, featuring Cindy on drums, paid tribute to the legendary Tony Williams Lifetime band.
- Carlos Santana – “Corazón” (2014): Cindy collaborated with her husband, legendary guitarist Carlos Santana, on this album, blending rock, Latin, and jazz influences.
Awards & Accolades
Cindy Blackman Santana’s career is adorned with accolades and recognition. Here are the most important ones.
- DownBeat Critics Poll Winner: Cindy has been a recurrent figure in DownBeat magazine’s Critics Poll. Her drumming finesse and innovative rhythms have consistently caught the attention of critics, earning her spots in categories like “Rising Star” and “Best Drummer.”
- Acclaimed for “Another Lifetime” (2010): Cindy’s tribute album to her mentor, Tony Williams, received widespread acclaim. Not only did it showcase her technical prowess, but it also highlighted her deep understanding of jazz and improvisation.
- Honoring Her Jazz Roots: Cindy has been celebrated in various jazz festivals and events, where her performances are often highlighted for their energy, technical skill, and emotional depth.
- A Beacon for Female Drummers: Throughout her career, Cindy has broken through gender barriers in the drumming world, becoming an inspiration and role model for aspiring female musicians. Her accomplishments and steadfast dedication to her craft have paved the way for more female artists in the industry.
- Celebrated Educator: Beyond performance, Cindy is also recognized for her work in music education. She’s conducted numerous workshops and master classes, sharing her knowledge and passion with the next generation of drummers.
Cindy’s musical journey is vast and varied. As a leader, she has produced albums that showcase her unique style and prowess. Some of her notable works include:
- Arcane (1987) features the likes of Wallace Roney and Joe Henderson.
- Code Red (1992), where she collaborated with Steve Coleman and Kenny Barron.
- Another Lifetime (2010) with Mike Stern and Doug Carn saw guest appearances from Joe Lovano and Vernon Reid.
- Her recent solo work, Give The Drummer Some (2020), further cements her place in the annals of drumming legends.
In addition to her solo projects, Cindy has collaborated with many artists. She’s worked with Eddie Allen on Summer Days (2000), Melinda Doolittle on Coming Back to You (2009), and even with the legendary Santana on albums like Corazón (2014).
Of course, her association with Lenny Kravitz on his album 5 (1998) is what many fans might recognize her for. But her collaborations don’t stop there. From working with The Isley Brothers to Joss Stone, Cindy’s versatility shines through in every project she undertakes.
Lenny Kravitz Drummer – Cindy Blackman Santana Drum Kit
- Manufacturer: Gretsch: USA Custom
- Finish: Antique Maple Gloss Lacquer
- Bass Drum: 14×24”
- Rack Toms: 8×12”, 9×13”
- Floor Toms: 14×14”, 16×16”, 16×18”
- Snare: 6.5×14”
From the get-go, Cindy was deeply influenced by the jazz greats. Tony Williams, a legendary jazz drummer, stands out as a significant influence on her drumming journey. His innovative style and approach to drumming left an indelible mark on Cindy.
Additionally, the likes of Art Blakey and Elvin Jones played pivotal roles in shaping her early drumming perspectives. Their intricate rhythms, dynamic playing, and sheer passion for the craft resonated with Cindy, guiding her initial steps into the world of drumming.
Cindy Blackman Santana’s drumming style is a rich tapestry of her influences, personal experiences, and relentless experimentation. Here’s a glimpse into what makes her stand out:
- Jazz Roots with a Rock Twist: While her foundation is deeply rooted in jazz, thanks to her time with Lenny Kravitz, she seamlessly incorporated rock elements into her repertoire. This blend gives her a unique sound that’s both intricate and powerful.
- Dynamic Range: One of Cindy’s standout traits is her dynamic range. She can shift from soft, nuanced beats to explosive, powerhouse rhythms in a heartbeat.
- Signature Moves: Her drum solos often feature rapid-fire snare hits combined with syncopated cymbal crashes. It’s a blend of technical prowess and raw emotion.
- Inspiration Source: Beyond the greats like Tony Williams, Cindy’s style is also inspired by world rhythms. Her exposure to various global beats, especially from Latin music (thanks in part to collaborations with her husband, Carlos Santana), has added another layer to her drumming palette.
Cindy’s life off the stage is as intriguing as her performances on it. In a memorable moment, Carlos Santana proposed to her on stage during a concert in 2010, right after her drum solo. The two tied the knot later that year in Maui, Hawaii.
Spirituality plays a significant role in Cindy’s life. She embraced the Baháʼí Faith at 18 and later delved into the study of Kabbalah.
For Cindy, music is a form of prayer. “I believe that music is so sacred that once you’re playing music you are doing the work of prayer, whether you’re conscious of it or not,” she remarks.
Being a female jazz percussionist, Cindy has faced her share of challenges. The world of drumming, especially in jazz, has been historically male-dominated.
But Cindy’s perspective is empowering: “Any woman, or anyone facing race prejudice, weight prejudice, hair prejudice … if you let somebody stop you because of their opinions, then the only thing you’re doing is hurting yourself.”
Other Lenny Kravitz Drummers
Besides Cindy, Lenny Kravitz has had several drummers throughout his career, each bringing their own unique style and flair to his music. Let’s check them as well.
Zoro (Bobby Deitch)
Known as “The Minister of Groove,” Zoro has an impressive resume that spans various genres, from R&B to rock. His time with Lenny Kravitz was marked by his tight grooves and impeccable timing.
Zoro was a member of Lenny’s live band following the release of his debut album, “Let Love Rule,” in 1989. Additionally, he contributed to Lenny’s second album, “Mama Said,” playing on the track “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Zoro’s drumming style is characterized by its funk-infused rhythms and solid pocket playing.
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
While Questlove is best known as the drummer for The Roots, he did have a brief stint with Lenny Kravitz. Questlove’s drumming is deeply rooted in hip-hop, but he’s versatile enough to blend into rock, soul, and R&B seamlessly. His nuanced, groove-centric approach added a unique touch to Kravitz’s tracks during his tenure.
Franklin is a versatile drummer known for his energetic style that blends rock, funk, and jazz. Franklin built a formidable reputation as a drummer through collaborations with numerous legends, leading Lenny Kravitz to invite him to join his band in 2007. Currently, Franklin serves as the primary drummer for Lenny Kravitz’s live performances.
He has been a part of Lenny Kravitz’s band for many years and has contributed to multiple albums and tours. His dynamic range and ability to adapt to various musical genres make him a valuable asset to Kravitz’s sound.
Who is Lenny Kravitz’s drummer?
Over the years, Lenny Kravitz has had several drummers. Notably, Cindy Blackman Santana played for him in the 1990s. More recently, Franklin Vanderbilt has been the primary drummer for Kravitz.
Did Lenny Kravitz ever play drums on his own tracks?
Yes, Lenny Kravitz is a multi-instrumentalist and has played drums on many of his own tracks, especially in his early albums.
How long was Cindy Blackman Santana, the drummer for Lenny Kravitz?
Cindy Blackman Santana joined Lenny Kravitz’s band in 1993 and played with him for around 7 years into the early 2000s.