Musicians around the world remember Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar virtuoso who became known to a new generation during the 1960s after he inspired the Beatles’ psychedelic sounds.
Shankar died in southern California on Tuesday, aged 92, after treatment in hospital followed breathing difficulties last week. He underwent surgery which was successful, but was unable to recover.
The sitarist and composer, whose music was brought from the shores of India into the bedrooms of western teenagers after his collaboration with George Harrison of the Beatles, had been in fragile health for several years. His death was announced by his family, who were by his side at the time.
Musician Talvin Singh told Channel 4 News: “He was a huge inspiration. When I first used to see him on TV as a kid.. just seeing this man on the screen.. one of the great strengths of this musician was that melody, rhythm, movement was all important. He always made sure there’s an equal balance.. that we’re together making music.”
In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office posted a Twitter message calling Shankar a “national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage.”
PM: An era has passed away with Pt. Ravishankar. The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility.
— Dr Manmohan Singh (@PMOIndia) December 12, 2012
“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 will live forever in our hearts and in his music.”
Peter Fonda, the actor, tweeted: “Loved Ravi, got to meet him several times. He is missed, but his beautiful sitar playing will be with us forever. RIP Ravi Shankar.”
While Tim Burgess, frontman for The Charlatans, said: “The great Ravi Shankar has left the building. An amazing talent and the maker of a beautiful sound.”
The great Ravi Shankar has left the building. An amazing talent and the maker of abeautiful sound youtube.com/watch?v=OgawuD…
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) December 12, 2012
Shankar, who is often referred to by his title, Pandit, lived in both India and the United States. In his native India he was known as much for his compositions as well as his performances, creating the music for some of the country’s best-known films by the director, Satyajit Ray.
He began to tour Europe and America during the 1950s, soon collaborating with the Western violinist, Yehudi Menuhin.
But it was after he met the American folk band, The Byrds, that he was introduced to George Harrison, engendering a relationship which was to transform the western contemporary music scene from teeny pop to psychedelic spiritualism.
Harrison met Shankar in London in 1966 and went on to study sitar under him in Srinagar, India. In 1967, he appeared at the Monterey music festival, going on to play Woodstock in one of the defining music events of the era.
Shankar was also instrumental in establishing the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, held at Washington’s Madison Square Gardens to draw attention to the millions of refugees fleeing the war of independence in what was formerly East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.
Later, he continued with notable collaborations, including with the saxophonist, Jan Garbarek, and the composer, Philip Glass, delivering some of the earliest forms of what is now known as “fusion” music.
Yet his life beyond the sitar was as notable for its achievements: he also wrote the Oscar-nominated score for 1982 film Gandhi, several books, and mounted theatrical productions.
He also built an ashram-style home and music centre in India where students could live and learn, and later the Ravi Shankar Centre in Delhi in 2001, which hosts an annual music festival.
Shankar performed his last concert with his daughter, Anoushka, also a renowned musician, on 4 November in Long Beach, California. Already a three-time Grammy winner, he was nominated for another award for his latest album, The Living Room Sessions Part 1.
Born Robindra Shankar in 1920 in India’s holiest city, Varanasi, he spent his first few years in relative poverty before his eldest brother took the family to Paris with his dance group.
He is survived by Anoushka and by his other daughter, the singer, Norah Jones, as well as three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
His family said that a memorial would be announced in due course, and requested donations to be made to the Ravi Shankar Foundation.