A silent note on the sitar

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Beatles’ muse, three-time Grammy winner, breathes his last at 92

Ravi Shankar, the sitar player and co­mposer described as the “godfather of world music” by Beatles guitarist George Harrison, has died. He was 92.

Shankar died following surgery in California to replace a heart valve, according to a statement from his family. Shankar, who first performed internationally as a child, devoted his adult life to Indian classical mu­sic. His audience widened after Harrison, who introduced the sitar into rock music by playing the instrument on the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), sought out Sh­ankar’s tutelage.

In 1967, Shankar appeared at the Monterey International Pop Festival, where he was the only artist paid. Two years later, he played at the Woodstock festival. He collaborated with Harrison on the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, a benefit to help refugees of what was then East Pakistan.

“Ravi laid down the groundwork for other Indian musicians who were later able to perform all around the world because of him,” Harrison wrote in the introduction of Raga Mala, Shankar’s 1993 autobiography that the former Beatle edited. Two daughters with musical careers are among Shankar’s survivors: Norah Jones, the Grammy Award-winning singer and pianist, and Anoushka Shankar, also a sitarist. Shankar, who was popularly known as Pandit, or teacher in the Sanskrit language, held his last concert on November 4, according to his website.

“An era has passed away with Pandit Ravi Shankar,” prime minister Manmohan Singh wrote on his official Twitter page. “The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility.” Ravi Shankar composed the scores for Gandhi, Richard Attenborough’s Oscar-winning film in 1982, and Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, a 1950s series that Time magazine ranked among the 100 best movies ever.

Shankar won three Grammys, including one for the Concert for Bangladesh live album and another for West Meets East, a 1967 album with Menuhin. The third was awarded for another concert recording, Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000. India’s government presented him with its highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 1999. During se­ven years at All-India, he gave his initial concerts in the Soviet Union. Within a year of leaving, he made solo debuts in Europe and the US and recorded his first album, Three Ragas, for EMI Group.

Harrison, accompanied by his then-wife Patti, studied with Shankar in India for six weeks in 1966. The Beatle learned about him from singer David Crosby, then of the Byrds, and met Shankar in London.

“I knew I would be able to present the correct perspective of our music to young people all over the world so that they would have a better understanding of it,” he wrote in My Music, My Life, a musical guide and biography.

Shankar summed up his musical philosophy with this comment, highlighted on his website: “The magic in music happens only when the artist serves it with love and joy — and the listener receives it with the same spirit.”

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