Sitar Maestro, Composer Ravi Shankar Dead at 92

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Leg­endary sitarist and com­poser Ravi Shankar died at 4:30 p.m. Tues­day at Scripps Memo­r­ial Hos­pi­tal in La Jolla, Cal­i­for­nia, the Ravi Shankar Foun­da­tion announced. He was 92.

Over the past year, Shankar had suf­fered from upper-respiratory and heart prob­lems. He was hos­pi­tal­ized last Thurs­day after com­plain­ing of breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties. Although heart-valve replace­ment surgery was suc­cess­ful, recov­ery proved too dif­fi­cult for him, the foun­da­tion said.

Years before the Bea­t­les made him famous, Shankar helped pro­vide impro­vised music for the partly ani­mated 1957 National Film Board of Canada short A Chairy Tale, a fairy tale in the mod­ern man­ner, told with­out words by film artist Nor­man McLaren. In the film, a chair (ani­mated by Eve­lyn Lam­bart) that declines to be sat upon and a young man per­form a sort of pas de deux. A strug­gle ensues, first for mas­tery and then for understanding.

The short film was com­pletely edited before sound of the ani­ma­tion was con­sid­ered,” said Karin Gunn of the Teach Ani­ma­tion site. “At that time, the dis­tin­guished composer-performer sitarist, Ravi Shankar, had come to Mon­treal. After being invited to view the silent film, he expressed a keen inter­est in com­pos­ing the music.”

A Chairy Tale was nom­i­nated for an Oscar for Best Short Sub­ject, Live Action Sub­jects. It won the Cana­dian Film Award for Best Arts and Exper­i­men­tal, and a Spe­cial Award at the BAFTA Awards.

Shankar was India’s most esteemed musi­cal ambas­sador, and a sin­gu­lar phe­nom­e­non in the clas­si­cal music worlds of East and West. As a per­former, com­poser, teacher and writer, he did more for Indian music than any other musician.

He was well-known for his pio­neer­ing work in bring­ing Indian music to the West. This, how­ever, he did only after long years of ded­i­cated study under his illus­tri­ous guru, Baba Allaudin Khan, and after mak­ing a name for him­self in India.

Always ahead of his time, Shankar wrote three con­cer­tos for sitar and orches­tra, the last in 2008. He also authored violin-sitar com­po­si­tions for Yehudi Menuhin and him­self, music for flute vir­tu­oso Jean Pierre Ram­pal, music for shakuhachi mas­ter Hosan Yamamoto and koto vir­tu­oso Musumi Miyashi-ta, and col­lab­o­rated with Phillip Glass (Passages).

For­mer Bea­tle George Har­ri­son pro­duced and par­tic­i­pated in two record albums, Shankar Fam­ily & Friends and Fes­ti­val of India, both com­posed by Ravi Shankar.

Shankar also com­posed for bal­lets and films in India, Canada, Europe and the United States — the last includ­ing the movies Charly, Gandhi and the Apu Trilogy.

In the period of the awak­en­ing of the younger gen­er­a­tion in the mid-1960s, Shankar gave three mem­o­rable con­certs: the Mon­terey Pop Fes­ti­val, the Con­cert for Bangla Desh and the Wood­stock Festival.

An hon­orary mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Arts and Let­ters, Shankar was a mem­ber of the United Nations Inter­na­tional Ros­trum of com­posers. He received many awards and hon­ors from his own coun­try and from around the world, includ­ing 14 doc­tor­ates, the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vib­hushan, Desikot­tam, Padma Bhushan of 1967, the Music Coun­cil UNESCO award 1975, the Magsaysay Award from Manila, two Gram­mys, the Fukuoka grand Prize from Japan, the Polar Music Prize of 1998 and the Crys­tal award from Davos.

In 1986, he was nom­i­nated as a mem­ber of the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper house of Parliament.

Deeply moved by the plight of more than eight mil­lion refugees who came to India dur­ing the Bangla Desh Free­dom strug­gle from Pak­istan, Shankar wanted to help in any way he could. He planned to arrange a con­cert to col­lect money for the refugees.

He approached his dear friend, Har­ri­son, to help him raise money for this cause. This human­i­tar­ian con­cern from Shankar sowed the seed of the con­cept for the Con­cert for Bangla Desh. With Harrison’s help, this con­cert became the first mag­nus effort in fundrais­ing, paving the way for many oth­ers to do char­ity concerts.

His record­ing Tana Mana, released on the pri­vate Music label in 1987, brought Shankar’s music into the “New Age” with its unique method of com­bin­ing tra­di­tional instru­ments with electronics.

In 1989, he cel­e­brated his 50th year of con­cer­tiz­ing, and the Birm­ing­ham Tour­ing Opera Com­pany com­mis­sioned him to do a Music The­atre (Ghanashyam — a bro­ken branch), which cre­ated his­tory on the British arts scene.

He was born Robindra Shankar on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, India, and was the youngest of four brothers,

Ravi Shankar has brought me a pre­cious gift, and through him, I have added a new dimen­sion to my expe­ri­ence of music. To me, his genius and his human­ity can only be com­pared to that of Mozart’s,” Menuhin reflected.

Har­ri­son once said: “Ravi Shankar is the God­fa­ther of World Music.”

Ravi Shankar is sur­vived by wife Sukanya, daugh­ter Norah Jones, daugh­ter Anoushka Shankar Wright and hus­band Joe Wright, and three grand­chil­dren and four great-grandchildren.

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