The global community is mourning the death of Ravi Shankar, who had been an ambassador to the Western world for classical Indian music and a pivotal figure of influence for musicians of the 1960s and beyond. Here’s what you
1. He was 92 Years Old
Virtuoso and musical icon Ravi Shankar passed away at his home in San Diego; he was 92 years old. Last week he had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery, after suffering heart and respiratory problems recently. It is believed his wife and youngest daughter were with him when he died.
2. Ravi Played Sitar
After spending the majority of his childhood performing in Paris with his brother Uday Shankar’s dance troupe, he was taken under the wing of the court musician Allauddin Khan. Enforcing a strict practice regimen that literally encompassed all of Shankar’s time, it was seven and a half years before he was ready to play independently. As per an interview with the Associated Press, Ravi explained, “Khan told me you have to leave everything else and do one thing properly.”
3. Indian Music was Largely Unknown to the West Before Him
While better known for his relations to the rock and roll stars of the sixties, Shankar actually began interacting with western musicians as early as the fifties, including violinist Menuhin, and famed sax player John Coltrane. His influence on these players would be immense, with Coltrane so impressed with him, he actually named his son (Ravi Coltrane) after him.
4. He was Good Friends with George Harrison
With the Beatles ready to depart from their Love Me Do sound into later sixties psychedelica, Harrison reached out to Shankar for lessons on the Sitar. Fascinated by the Raga rhythms of the east, Harrison had played the instrument on Rubber Soul’s Norwegian Wood, but had changed it to standard tuning in order to play it like a guitar. The two spent weeks together in India as George gradually gained competency, and the two formed a bond that would last until George’s passing in 2001.
5. Sixties Rock Fell in Love With Him
The droning of Sitars soon became a near standard in the rock and roll scene of the late sixties, with bands like the Byrds directly referencing his music. The drug culture seamlessly adapted to producing East meets West style compositions, and the hippie movement took notice of Eastern philosophy. As the Beatles met with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the world took notice, and none of this would have happened had the west never been introduced to the country’s music by Ravi.
6. He was Norah Jones’ Father
While married, Shankar had an affair with New York concert producer Sue Jones, which produced little Norah in 1979. As we know today, she went on to great success, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003. Due to a strained relationship with her mother, Ravi and Norah did not see one another for ten years, but the two met later in life and reconciled. His other children, Shubho Shankar and Anoushka Shankar, also became musicians and played with him independently at different times.
7. He’ll be Awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Grammys
Even before his death, Shankar was scheduled to receive the lifetime achievement award. Meanwhile, his recent LP is up for consideration as Best World Music Album — featuring his daughter Anoushka Shankar. The two also won a Grammy in 2003 in the same category, the same year in which Norah Jones dominated the ceremonies. He won three Grammys in 1975.
8. He Passed on Grass…and Meat
Shankar was a Hindu and a vegetarian, and did not approve of the sixties free-wheeling approach to recreational drug use. This was quite a shock for him during his trips to America, where thousands of hippies gathered, dosed to high heaven.
On bills featuring Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jefferson Airplane, Ravi served as a reprieve to the heavy rockers with his four hour metaphysical journeys. He enjoyed the other acts as well, but didn’t care for Hendrix’s treatment of his Stratocasters, claiming that in India instruments were held sacred, and like a part of God. So setting them ablaze and smashing them…not kosher.
10. Without Him, Live-Aid Never Would Have Happened
His collaboration with Harrison extended into organizing the Bangladesh concerts of the early seventies. One of the first large benefit shows, the concerts featured Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Billy Preston among others in hopes of creating awareness for the Bangladesh relief fund. The event would go on to inspire many other large scale charitable projects including Live-Aid.