Indian sitar Pandit Ravi Shankar has passed away aged 92. The Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh called him a ‘national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage’. He was artistically active his whole life and gave his last performance just over a month before his passing, on November 4 2012. His final album Living Room Sessions – Part 1 is in contention for a Grammy Award at the 2013 event.
Shankar was born in the Varanasi, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and a place of spiritual importance in Hinduism and Jainism. Ravi’s passion for music began at an early age as he absorbed the rich Vedic chants and sacred song flooding the streets of his holy home city. In 1930 Shankar moved to Paris to perform with his older brother’s successful Indian dance troupe.
In Paris Ravi’s passion for music overtook his love for dance and he decided to return to India to take up studentship under his guru Ustad Allauddin Khan. He studied under Khan for seven years and later married his daughter Annapurna. Shankar performed his first concert in 1939 and began to rise to prominence as an important young musician. During the 1940s he composed music for films and for a ballet, The Discovery Of India. He also set up the first incarnation of the All India Radio National Orchestra. In 1971 he composed a concerto for sitar performed by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by André Previn.
In the 1960s Ravi began to turn his attention to the theological cross-over between jazz and Indian classical music regarding improvisational thought. He tutored none other than tenor sax legend John Coltrane and jazz trumpeter Don Ellis. Famously he also struck up a friendship with a member of The Beatles, George Harrison – who travelled to India to undergo tuition in sitar.
Shankar went on to perform at the famous Woodstock concert (see video below) and collaborated with a host of stars throughout his illustrious career including; Alla Rakha, Yehudi Menuhin, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Marielle Nordmann and Philip Glass.
His second wife Sukanya and two daughters Anoushka Shankar and Norah Jones, who are both respected musicians, survive him.