Ravi Shankar 1920-2012

By | Published on Wednesday 12 December 2012

Ravi Shankar

Sitar player Ravi Shankar has died in hospital aged 92. He was admitted to hospital in San Diego for surgery last week but failed to recover from the procedure.

In a statement, his wife Sukanya and daughter Anoushka said: “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”.

They added: “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”.

Born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury in 1920 in the Indian city of Varanasi, Shankar was the first Indian musician to become a household name in the West, when he was embraced by 1960s counterculture. However, his musical career began as a child when, in 1930, his family moved to Paris and he started performing with a group led by his eldest brother Uday.

He later moved back to his home country, studying as a music guru for seven years, and in the mid-1940s, having grown in reputation as a performer and composer, he signed to HMV India as a recording artist. It was in 1955 that he first came to wider international attention, through his soundtrack to the Satyajit Ray directed film ‘The Apu Trilogy’.

This led to tours of Europe and the US, and to a record deal in the States to Pacific Jazz Records subsidiary World Pacific Records. While recording in LA, he came to the attention of The Byrds, who were working in the same studio complex, and who incorporated influences from what they heard into their own music. They also introduced Shankar’s work to George Harrison, who became a great fan and later a student of the sitar player.

Harrison and Shankar first met in London in 1966, and The Beatle studied sitar with him in India for six weeks, during which time Howard Worth’s documentary ‘Raga’ was also filmed. The association with Harrison boosted Shankar’s fame incredibly, leading to performances at the Monterey and Woodstock festivals. However, dismayed at the superficial way Indian culture was often portrayed by the hippy movement, Shankar later distanced himself from it. Nonetheless, he retained a strong international following and worked on several more projects with Harrison in his lifetime.

Shankar continued to write and perform up until his death, despite his declining health. His final show took place in California last month, with his daughter (and regular accompanist) Anoushka.

He is survived by his wife Sukanya and daughter Anoushka, and his other daughter from a previous relationship, the singer-songwriter Norah Jones.