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Sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar dies at 92


Labeled “the godfather of world music” by George Harrison, Ravi Shankar helped millions of Westerners – classical, jazz and rock lovers – discover the ancient traditions of Indian music.

Shankar died Tuesday at age 92. A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home with his wife and a daughter by his side. The musician’s foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.

“My Dad’s music touched millions of people,” his daughter, musician Norah Jones, said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed by me and music lovers everywhere.”

Through Shankar and his bond with Harrison, countless rock acts absorbed Eastern sounds, including the Beatles, the Byrds, Aerosmith and R.E.M. Shankar also became a conscience for all popular musicians when he helped pioneer the rock benefit show with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh, which featured acts including Harrison, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan.

His last musical performance was with his other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright, on Nov. 4 in Long Beach, Calif. The multiple Grammy winner received a lifetime achievement honor Wednesday from the Recording Academy.

“It’s one of the biggest losses for the music world,” said Kartic Seshadri, a Shankar protégé, sitar virtuoso and music professor at the University of California, San Diego. “There’s nothing more to be said.”

He might never have inspired the Bangladesh concert or played Monterey, where other breakthrough performers included Hendrix and Janis Joplin, if not for the curiosity of Harrison while on the set of the Beatles’ 1965 movie “Help!” The plot featured the Beatles, four of the West’s most famous faces, being hounded by an Eastern cult that coveted one of Starr’s rings. During filming, Harrison noticed a sitar, a long-necked string instrument that uses a bulbous gourd for its resonating chamber and resembles a giant lute.

He developed a crude facility and played the instrument, with Western tuning, on Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood.” The Rolling Stones soon used a sitar on the hit single “Paint It, Black” and the Byrds used raga-influenced guitar on “Eight Miles High.” Meanwhile, Harrison sought out Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to use it properly.

In the 1950s, Shankar began gaining fame throughout India. He held the influential position of music director for All India Radio and wrote several popular film scores.

In 1979, he fathered Norah Jones with New York concert promoter Sue Jones.

He grew estranged from Sue Jones in the ’80s and didn’t see Norah for a decade, though they later re-established contact.

The statement she and her mother released said, “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 part of our lives.”