Ravi Shankar: Legendary Indian Sitarist, Beatles Muse, Norah Jones' Father Dies

   on December 12 2012 1:36 AM
Pandit Ravi Shankar Passes Away
Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar performs with daughter Anoushka Shankar in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata February 7, 2009.

Pandit Ravi Shankar, the legendary sitarist, composer and musician described as the "godfather of world music" by Beatles guitarist George Harrison, has died.

His official website announced: "With profound grief and sorrow, we mourn the passing of Pandit Ravi Shankar on December 11, 2012. He died in San Diego at 4:30 p.m. Pacific time. He was 92."

In an email dated Dec.11, his manager, Earl Blackburn, said: "It’s with a very heavy heart that I confirm this sad news.”

The ailing musician was hospitalized in San Diego on Dec. 6 after complaining of breathing difficulties. He was considered a unique phenomenon and was known for pioneering and championing the cause of Indian music in the West.

Shankar first rose to fame and began spreading awareness and appreciation of Indian music in the West in the 1950s, when he composed and performed music for the films comprising Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy. Later in life he recorded music for "Gandhi," which earned him an Oscar in 1983 for Best Original Score.

His long career was noted by his collaborations, which included working with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz great John Coltrane.

But he is most famous for exposing millions of people to Indian music through his association with the Beatles in the 1960s.

He performed on the Beatles' 1965 song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," and he and Beatles guitarist George Harrison were friends from then until Harrison's death in 2001. 

The two collaborated on the all-star Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, whose cause was to raise money to help refugees in Bangladesh, then-known as East Pakistan, which had been hit by a hurricane.

It was the first all-star music benefit concert of its kind, and it featured appearances by Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and many others, including Indian classical musicians as well. The concert is widely considered to be the first of the modern all-star benefit concerts, such as Live Aid in 1985. 

Shankar's sonic influence had a large impact on popular music, and its droning sounds and Eastern scales can be heard in the music of many 1960s artists, including the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, the Kinks and the Byrds. 

A three-time Grammy Award winner, Shankar received accolades from such contemporaries as Yehudi Menuhin, who stated: "Ravi Shankar has brought me a precious gift and through him I have added a new dimension to my experience of music. To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart's."

The Indian government presented him with its highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. He won Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, a lifetime achievement award, in 1998.

He won Grammys for "Concert for Bangladesh," a live album; "West Meets East," a 1967 album with Menuhin; and "Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000." He was also nominated for Grammy Awards for 2013.

In response to Shankar’s death, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described him as an Indian sitar virtuoso.

Businessweek claimed the musician adopted a lackadaisical approach toward his personal life, in contrast to the discipline that was the hallmark of his professional life. 

Shankar began touring Europe and America in the 1950s, playing Indian classical music, and he expanded Western audiences by composing music for sitar and orchestra in the 1970s and 1980s.

He had served as a nominated member of the upper chamber of the Indian parliament from 1986 to 1992.

Other international achievements and accolades include serving as an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Pandit Ravi Shankar is also a member of the United Nations International Rostrum of composers.

He is also a recipient of 14 honorary doctorates and India's highest civilian honors, including the Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan (1967) and Desikottam.

He won the Music Council UNESCO award 1975, the Magsaysay Award from Manila, the Fukuoka grand Prize from Japan, and the Crystal award from Davos, which gave him the title “Global Ambassador.”

Personal Life

Born Rabindra Shankar Chowdhury, April 7, 1920, in the northern Indian city of Benares, also known as Varanasi, the musician was the youngest of the seven sons born to Shyam Shankar Chowdhury and his wife Hemangini. The budding musician lost two of his siblings in childhood.

As an adult, after winning international fame and recognition, Shankar had several women in his life as his partners, and among them they bore him three children.

Two daughters are among his survivors. Norah Jones, the Grammy Award-winning singer and pianist, and Anoushka Shankar, a reputed sitarist who accompanied her father at concerts, continue to perform internationally.

His only son, Shubendra, who was born in 1942 to his first wife, Annapurna, and who followed in his father's footsteps to become a sitarist and painter, succumbed to bronchial pneumonia in 1992.

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