Arturo Sandoval to Be Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Cuban-born trumpeter was once jailed for listening to jazz

Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama later this year, according to published news reports. The Cuban-born musician will join former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, country singer Loretta Lynn and others in receiving the honor, according to a White House statement.

Arturo Sandoval
By Atael Weissman
Arturo Sandoval in performance from the 2012 Carolina International Jazz Festival in Puerto Rico
By Wilbert Sostre

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The Presidential Medal of Freedom was created by President John F. Kennedy to honor civilians and has been given to more than 500 people since its inception.

Sandoval, born in Artemisa, Cuba, in 1949, began his musical career in his homeland and was once jailed for three months for “listening to the voice of the enemy,” he was quoted as saying. He eventually defected from Cuba and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1999.


  • Aug 12, 2013 at 07:01AM Pablo Aguirre

    I agree that Arturo Sandoval may have many merits as a musician, no doubt about that. But the claim that he was once jailed for three months for listening to jazz (listening to the “voice of the enemy”) sounds frankly ridiculous and pathetic. Not only he was able to listen to jazz while living in Cuba, but he was one of the main representatives of the genre there. He used to play in the Havana Jazz Festival where he actually met Dizzy Gillespie, who used to travel to Cuba where he had (and has) masses of more than enthusiastic fans. Sandoval was a member of Irakere, the legendary salsa and latin-jazz band led by Chucho Valdés. While in Cuba Sandoval gave interviews to the British BBC cultural TV program “Arena” in which he praises the Cuban educational system for having given him the chance to become a great jazz musician (I still have the video recordings). He also talks about the freedom to play jazz in Cuba which, according to him, is a ´tradition´ in the island. How could he have been jailed for listening to jazz in a country that has produced jazz legends like Chucho Valdés and Harold López-Nussa, amongst many others, who regularly tour and record in the United Satates and the World, only to return to Cuba where they have their homes? (Valdés organizes the Havana jazz festival). Have they been jailed for playing jazz in the ´enemy´s country´? Not only Cuba has produced first class jazz musicians over the years, but in that country there are famous jazz venues such as the ´Jazz Café´ and the legendary ´Zorra y el cuervo´ jazz club, which has been going on for decades. How can someone claim to have been jailed for listening to jazz in this context? Sandoval may have been jailed for other reasons, I do not doubt that, but not for listening to jazz. I have visited Cuba several times where I have interviewed jazz musicians for a BBC World Service radio jazz series (and have also played in jam sessions at the Zorra y el cuervo jazz club) and cannot imagine why the White House and some of the media in the U.S. are spreading this story. Is it ignorance, sloppy unkempt journalism, or are we going back to old fashion cold war propaganda?

  • Aug 20, 2013 at 03:00AM greggfield

    It wasn't "Jazz" per se that was the problem. I suspect it was listening to Willis Conover on the "Voice of America" radio broadcasts that were considered anti-Castro. Because of that it is no surprise given the times one could be jailed for listening to an American Radio broadcast...

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