Ravi Shankar, the master sitar player who earned three Grammys and left an indelible mark on generations of pop influencers including the Beatles, died on Tuesday at a hospital near his home in San Diego, his foundation and record label announced. He was 92.
RAVI SHANKAR & FRIENDS
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Shankar had been suffering from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the course of a year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. However, he failed to recover and died at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.
“It is with heavy hearts we write to inform you that Pandit Ravi Shankar, husband, father, and musical soul, passed away today,” said a family statement. “We were at his side when he passed away.”
The office of India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also confirmed the death, calling Shankar a “national treasure.”
Shankar Teaches George Harrison
Shankar last played live on Nov. 4 in Long Beach with his daughter Anoushka Shankar, also a renowned sitarist. Last week as he was preparing to go into surgery, he learned he had been nominated for the best world music album Grammy for “The Living Room Sessions Part 1.” His album will compete against Anoushka’s “Traveller” in the category.
During the past decade, Shankar has continued to tour and record albums, though younger Western audiences may only recognize him as the sometimes-estranged father of jazz-folk singer Norah Jones. But starting in the 1950s the musician gained acclaim for collaborating with Western artists including John Coltrane and violinist Yehudi Menuhin. In the 1960s he was sought out by Beatles guitarist George Harrison to help him improve his sitar playing, which he first tried on the “Rubber Soul” classic “Norwegian Wood” in 1965. Shankar took on the role as the young rock star’s mentor and two years later Harrison’s improved sitar playing can be heard on the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” track, “Within You Without You.”
RAVI SHANKAR & FRIENDS
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Inspired by Harrison, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones taught himself how to play the sitar and the quirky stringed instrument with a tinny ring featured prominently in the band’s 1966 hit, “Paint It Black.” Other late-60s artists to join the “sitar craze” include John Fred and His Playboys (“Judy in Disguise”), Scott MacKenzie (“San Francisco”), Traffic (“Paper Sun”), The Monkees (“This Just Doesn’t Seem to Be My Day”), and Strawberry Alarm Clock (“An Angry Young Man”), among others. It can also be heard on Steely Dan’s 1972 hit “Do It Again” and the Metallica track “Wherever I May Roam.”
The association with Harrison and the Beatles catapulted Shankar to global stardom and resulted in several high profile appearances at legendary rock festivals, namely 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock in 1969.
Shankar worked with Harrison in organizing the Concert for Bangladesh, which was held at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1, 1971 to raise awareness for the political turmoil engulfing East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell and Ringo Starr were among the performers at the event, which was the largest benefit concert ever organized at the time.
Shankar’s performance of “Bangla Dhun” was included on “The Concert for Bangladesh” live album, which was released in Dec. 1971; the triple LP spent six weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 and won the 1973 Grammy for Album of the Year. “The Concert for Bangladesh” concert film was released in 1972, and issued on DVD in 2005.
Shankar Performs Live at the Monterey Pop Festival
The three-time Grammy winner charted five albums on the Billboard 200 over the course of his career, with the highest-charting being the 1967 release “Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival,” which hit No. 43. On Billboard’s World chart, which launched in 1990, he tallied four top 10 efforts. Most recently, his “Collaborations” set with George Harrison peaked at No. 3 in 2010.
Shankar was born Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury on April 7, 1920 in the Northeastern Indian city of Varnasi. From ages 10-18 he traveled around Europe, Asia and America in a dance troupe along with his brother. Shankar began learning the sitar in 1938.
Shankar was a long time resident of Encinitas, a suburb north of San Diego, and maintained a residence in his birthplace of India. He’s survived by his wife, Sukanya, daughters Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Memorial plans will be announced.