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'Godfather of World Music' Ravi Shankar Dead at 92

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar maestro and world renowned musician, has died at the age of 92 in San Diego.

Ravi Shankar at Barbican centre. (Photo: File) According to the Times of India, Shankar passed away in a local hospital, where he had been admitted last week after complaints of breathing difficulties.

"It is with heavy hearts we write to inform you that Pandit Ravi Shankar, husband, father, and musical soul, passed away today," his wife and daughter, Sukanya and Anoushka Shankar, said in a joint statement.

"As you all know, his health has been fragile for the past several years and on Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away," the joint statement said.

"We know that you all feel our loss with us, and we thank you for all of your prayers and good wishes through this difficult time. 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 spirit and his legacy will live on forever in our hearts and in his music," they said in their joint statement.

Shankar became well known following his close relationship with The Beatles' Geoge Harrison and was beloved in both the east and the west for his ability to transcend cultural barriers with his music.

As Rolling Stone reports:

Dubbed the Godfather of World Music by his most famous student, George Harrison, Shankar learned to play several Indian classical instruments in his teens and began touring abroad in the 1950s, introducing Indian ragas to audiences in Europe and the U.S. Shankar met Harrison in 1966 at a friend's house, where the Beatle approached him about learning to play the sitar after he'd used one on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)." Under Shankar's tutelage, Harrison became proficient in the instrument and played it on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band song "Within You Without You," further igniting interest in ragas and Shankar's work among Beatles fans. 

"When George became my student, I got a new audience: the younger generation," Shankar told Rolling Stone in 1997. "And, of course, they came like a flood because the whole thing happened with the hippie movement and this interest in Indian culture. Unfortunately it got all mixed up with drugs and Kamasutra and all that. I was like a rock star . . . I never said one shouldn't take drugs or drink alcohol, but associating drugs with our music and culture, that's something I always fought. I was telling them to come without being high on drugs. I said, 'Give me the chance to make you high through out music,' which it does, really. I think it's good I made that stand, and that's why I'm still here today." 

Watch and listen to Ravi Shankar play live with his daughter,  Anoushka, as part of India and Pakistan's Golden Jubilee celebrations at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham in 1997:

Shankar and Harrison playing sitar in Rishikesh, India in 1968:

And The Guardian reports:

Shankar not only transcended culture, race and geography but also had no difficulty with the generation gap and the phenomenon of class. The children of the flower-power generation turned a deaf ear to their elders but listened most intently to the stranger on the shore.

Showered with citations and awards, the Indian republic made him a Bharat Ratna (Jewel of India) and Britain made him an honorary knight. In the US he received several doctorates and was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In later years he divided his time between Encinitas, California, and Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, where the Ravi Shankar Institute of Music and the Performing Arts, fully functional by 2003, was the culmination of his lifelong dream. Housed in an elegant pink granite building, it attracts students from all over the world.

He is survived by his second wife, Sukanya, and their daughter Anoushka who, diligently tutored by her father, is a well-known sitar player. He also leaves a daughter, Norah Jones, the Emmy award-winning singer, from an earlier relationship with the concert producer Sue Jones. Shubhendra, his son from his first marriage, predeceased him.

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