Musical pioneer Ravi Shankar dies at age 92

Ravi Shankar introduced Indian classical music to the world, taught George Harrison to play sitar and was a key figure at Woodstock festival

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 4:13am


Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, who influenced musicians ranging from The Beatles to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, has died aged 92 in the United States after surgery, his family said yesterday.

Shankar, the father of American singer-songwriter Norah Jones and fellow sitar star Anoushka Shankar, died on Tuesday in hospital in San Diego, California, where he had undergone an operation to replace a heart valve.

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh hailed Shankar, who popularised Indian classical music around the world, as "a national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage".

"An era has passed away … The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility," he said.

Shankar, who had houses in California and India, was born into a high-caste Bengali Brahmin family in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in northern India on April 7, 1920.

He began his career at a young age, touring Europe with his brother Uday's dance troupe but returned to India in the late 1930s to study the sitar under the renowned musician Allauddin Khan. Shankar first married Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, in 1941 and they had a son, Shubendhra.

The couple later separated and Shubendhra, who also played the sitar, died in 1992. Shankar's affair with a New York concert producer, Sue Jones, led to the birth in 1979 of Norah Jones, who has won nine Grammys with her blend of pop and jazz music. He had another daughter, Anoushka, with second wife Sukanya.

He taught close friend the late Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar and collaborated with him on several projects, including the groundbreaking Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 to raise awareness of the war-racked nation. Harrison called him "The Godfather of World Music", while Menuhin, himself widely considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, compared him to Mozart.

Shankar, a three-time Grammy winner, was on the bill with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock festival in New York in 1969 when 500,000 people gathered for one of the iconic cultural events of the century.

Dressed in traditional Indian clothes and always seated on the floor when playing, he was lauded by the hippie generation, but he expressed reservations about the excesses of Western stars and said his priorities were music, yoga and philosophy.

Shankar's wife Sukanya and daughter Anoushka described him as a "husband, father, and musical soul".

"His health has been fragile for the past several years and [last] Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life," they said. "Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away.

"Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives."

His family said he had been suffering respiratory and heart problems.

The statement said that Shankar performed his last concert on November 4 in Long Beach, California, with his daughter and fellow Grammy-nominated sitar player Anoushka.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, he is survived by three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, it said, adding that memorial plans would be announced shortly.

The night before his surgery he was informed that his latest album, The Living Room Sessions, Part 1, had received a 2013 Grammy nomination.

"Mourn [the] passing of a musical genius and gentle soul," Nirupama Menon Rao, the Indian ambassador to the US said.

Agence France-Presse