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Indian Composer, Sitar Legend Ravi Shankar Dead At 92

Indian Sitar Virtuoso Ravi Shankar Dies At 92i
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December 12, 2012
Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar has died at the age of 92. Shankar introduced Western audiences to traditional Indian music in the 1950s and 60s. (AP video)
Composer and sitar player Ravi Shankar, the world's most famous Indian musician, has died at the age of 92 following surgery in San Diego, California. He had been suffering from heart and respiratory problems for years.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh mourned Shankar's death, calling him a "national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage."

Shankar helped spread knowledge of classical Indian music and culture around the world, achieving his greatest fame during the 1960s when he was embraced by Western stars like George Harrison of The Beatles.

His association with Harrison, as well as performances at the Monterey and Woodstock music festivals, gave him great notoriety in the West.

The 1971 Concert for Bangladesh -- a charity concert where Shankar shared the stage with Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton -- was organized by Harrison at Shankar's urging. It became the template for later benefit concerts like Live Aid, Live 8, and Live Earth.

But Shankar already was acclaimed as India's greatest musician when he met Harrison in 1966 and became his sitar teacher.

Solo Tour Of Soviet Union

Shankar was born in Varanasi, in northeastern India, where his family lived in relative poverty. At the age of 10, his older brother, Uday Shankar, moved the family to Paris and he began touring as a dancer in his brother's music and folk-dance troupe.

In 1938, Shankar began studying the sitar intensively under the master multi-instrumentalist Ustad Allauddin Khan. Shankar married Allauddin Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, in 1941. Her brother was Ali Akbar Khan, who went on to become one of the world's greatest sarod players. The two would collaborate on many recordings and concerts, including the Concert for Bangladesh.

Ravi Shankar (left) with George Harrison in the 1970s
Ravi Shankar (left) with George Harrison in the 1970s
Shankar's dream to spread Indian culture took him around the world during the 1950s, including a solo tour of the Soviet Union in 1954, as well as tours of Europe, North America, and Japan.

He began working during the 1950s with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Highlights from their performances were released as an album called "West Meets East: The Historic Shankar Menuhin Collection" -- earning both a Grammy Award and further spreading the influence of Indian music.

Shankar was later commissioned by both the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic to write concertos for sitar and orchestra.

He played with jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, who named his son Ravi Coltrane after the Indian master.

Shankar also opened a music school in Los Angeles in 1967, maintaining a home there as well as in India.

'Open And Relaxed Mind'

He often explained the fundamentals of Indian music to Western audiences and included similar lectures on studio albums.

"The Western listener will appreciate and enjoy our music more if he listens with an open and relaxed mind, without expecting to hear harmony, counterpoint, or other elements prominent in Western music," Shankar said. "Neither should our music be thought of as akin to jazz, despite the improvisation and exciting rhythms present in both kinds of music."

He composed music for Russian orchestral, choral, and folk singers to perform together with Indian classical musicians during a 1988 concert inside the Kremlin. His film score for Richard Attenborough's "Gandhi" was nominated for an Academy Award in 1982. He also released the album "Passages" with composer Philip Glass in 1990.

Shankar was nominated by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to serve from 1986 to 1992 in the upper chamber of India's parliament.

His last concert was with one of his two daughters, prominent sitarist Anoushka Shankar, on November 4 in Long Beach, California. Separate albums by the two have been nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

His other daughter, Norah Jones, is a successful Western musician, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003.
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