Thursday, April 21, 2005 | 8:17 a.m.
Few Latin artists have influenced popular music the way Carlos Santana has over the past half-century.
It's only fitting, then, that the Mexican-born guitarist and songwriter has been tapped to receive the first Latin Icon award by music performing rights organization BMI.
The group, which represents songwriters, composers and publishers, will present the 57-year-old Santana with a certificate of achievement during its 12th annual awards dinner tonight at the Four Seasons.
"He has obviously brought to the world the Latin influence, with his musical style and the fusion of music that he has embraced," Diane J. Almodovar, assistant vice president for Latin music at BMI, said. "So we're really excited to have him as our first BMI Latin Icon."
The black-tie, invitation-only event, which has been held in several U.S. cities over the years, makes its first stop in Las Vegas. Almodovar said host sites are chosen for their strong Latin music fanbase.
"When we thought of the Latin awards dinner, it was with the premise that we would take it on the road to heavily populated (areas) ... where there are a lot of Hispanics -- Puerto Rico, Miami, California, Texas and, this year, Las Vegas," Almodovar said.
"Las Vegas is, in our opinion, an untapped music city which we believe will be growing in leaps and bounds in the next few years."
Tonight's banquet will feature a musical tribute to Santana, from a Latin supergroup comprised of members of Ozomatli, Jaguares, Mana and Conjunto Primavera.
In addition to Santana, BMI awards will go to the song, songwriter and publisher of the year, along with the top 50 Latin songs of the past year, based on radio airplay.
Though Almodovar would not reveal the list of winners beforehand, she mentioned that the honorees included two artists from a newly recognized Latin format.
"Two titles that will win are 'Hurban' or Hispanic-urban, Latin hip-hop, a musical format that has been growing," Almodovar said. "This genre of music is competing in terms of performance numbers with other Latin formats, such as regional Mexican or Latin-pop or tropical music."
Among the Latin musicians and songwriters expected to be in attendance tonight: Estefano, Emilio Estefan Jr., Kike Santander, A.B. Quintanilla, Cruz Martinez, Alicia Villarreal, Alvaro Torres and Akwid.