Ravi Shankar, who in essence almost singlehandedly brought Eastern “raga” music to the American shores and wound up influencing scores of famous musicians and bands, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles to name two, passed away in San Diego, CA, on December 11, 2012, reports The New York Times. He was 92. Shankar had suffered from heart ailments and underwent heart valve replacement surgery it was reported in a statement released by Shankar’s family.
Excelling on the sitar, an eclectic string instrument in which neighboring strings on the neck in essence resonate when a melody string is played, gave off a sound that was instantaneously connected with Shankar’s style and musical language. Shankar played like an extension of his personality, soft spoken, well mannered, respectful, yet with an attitude and a verve almost akin to a Jimi Hendrix.
Shankar’s world superstardom was definitely spearheaded immensely by George Harrison of The Beatles, who discovered him in 1965 and instantly began to utilize the sound of the sitar on the band’s Rubber Soul album, released that year. The following two subsequent records, Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, also employed the instrument on some tracks. Appearances at The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 only further endeared the man to the young masses eager for new sounds at the time. Along with the sitar and its sound also came a certain kind of spiritual lifestyle as well, in the clothes and the zen-like manner in which was manifested from the soul and creativity of Shankar.
He also played with the late John Coltrane for a few years before the legendary saxophonist’s death in 1967. In fact, Coltrane even named his son Ravi, in a loving tribute to the Indian master. Shankar also crossed genres; he played with classical musicians, electronic lineups, prominent Japanese musicians, and even large Philharmonic ensembles worldwide. His prolific creativity even extended to cinema, as he scored the 1982 Academy Award-winning Best Picture Gandhi.
In later years, he continued to work with George Harrison, on records produced for the Fab Four’s Apple label and he even toured with him in the mid 1970s, when Harrison too was highly mired in his spiritual phase largely, if not completely, influenced by the tenets of Shankar’s music and spiritual teachings.
Shankar is survived by his wife and two daughters, one of whom is the soul-cum-latter day Billie Holiday-styled award-winning musician Norah Jones; three grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His death leaves a huge void in not only Indian music, but the world of music in general. Ravi Shankar will not be forgotten, for now and forever. Music of his ilk exudes a timeless quality, much like the man himself.
RIP Ravi Shankar
April 7, 1920 – December 11, 2012