Thursday, 13 December 2012

Obituary: Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

First published on in December 2012.

Sitarist and composer Pandit Ravi Shankar, KBE, died on Tuesday, 11th December 2012, at the Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, USA.

A true innovator of Hindustani classical music, Shankar learnt to play in the Maihar gharana of his guru Ustad Allaudin Khan, which he used to adapt his own style, fusing dhrupad, khyal and thumri genres as well as incorporating elements from the Carnatic (South Indian) style of classical music, one of the first Hindustani musicians to do so.

But Shankar also expanded his repertoire far and beyond the classical music of his training. Being influenced by European classical styles, to which he was exposed during a period in France as a child, he composed ballets, concertos, a symphony and several original soundtracks for film. He also collaborated with Western art musicians and composers such as Yehudi Menuhin, André Previn and Philip Glass.

He was most well-known throughout the world, however, for his introduction of Indian music into the Western popular mind-set through collaborations with rock musicians, most famously George Harrison, to whom he taught the sitar, as well as recording several albums together. His association with Harrison lead to his appearances at festivals such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock and, famously, on the American TV show the Dick Cavett Show. He also opened the Concert for Bangladesh, organised by Harrison, in jugalbandi (duet) with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

Shankar had continued to tour until 2011, and was still performing concerts as recently as last month, his final performance coming on 4th November, near his home in California.

He is survived by his wife, Sukanya and his two daughters, both famous musicians in their own rights, pop-jazz singer Norah Jones and sitarist Anoushka Shankar. His son, Shubhendra ‘Shubho’ Shankar died in 1992.

Photo: Womadelaide 10 Ravi Shankar and Anoushka Shankar (India), by PeterTea. Used under licence CC BY-ND 2.0.