Sitar player Ravi Shankar, who rose to international fame in the 1960s, has died while recovering from an operation in San Diego.
Shankar, who famously inspired The Beatles’s psychedelic sound, also collaborated with a host of western classical musicians. These include violinist Yehudi Menuhin, with whom he notably performed at the Bath Festival – their collaborations becoming part of the 1967 album West Meets East. Conductor Zubin Mehta worked with Shankar on many projects, including his Sitar Concerto No. 2, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1981. And, in 1990, Shankar collaborated with Philip Glass on the album Passages.
But it is his association with The Beatles and particularly George Harrison, who went for sitar lessons with Shankar in 1966, for which he is best known. The influence of the sitar started to play an increasing role with the release of their album Rubber Soul.
Shankar was born in north India but went with his older brother Uday to Paris to take part in his dance company. He toured extensively in the 1930s and this gave him an awareness of a wide range of music. After leaving the troupe, he studied Indian classical music with Allauddin Khan – the chief court musician of the Maharaja. Here, Shankar learnt the sitar, making his first solo concert performance in 1939. And after a stint as director of All-India Radio (1948-1956) he made the instrument world-famous, continuing to perform a busy international schedule through the subsequent decades. His daughters, (sitarist) Anoushka Shankar and (jazz singer) Norah Jones, also continued the family’s musical tradition.
In 1971 he took part in George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and the ex-Beatle has famously referred to him as ‘the godfather of world music’. In 2005 Shankar made a notable appearance at the BBC Proms, performing his Concerto for Sitar No. 1. And his final performance was in California on 4 November with his daughter Anoushka.