|Born||April 7, 1920|
|Died||December 11, 2012 (aged 92)|
|Genre(s)||Hindustani classical music|
Ravi Shankar, KBE (Bengali: রবি শংকর), (April 7, 1920 - December 11, 2012), often referred to by the title Pandit (a scholar and a teacher), was an Indian musician and composer who played the sitar, a plucked stringed instrument used in Indian classical music. He became famous not only in India, where he played and composed traditional Indian classical music, but also pioneered bringing Indian music to the West.
He composed for and played with classical musicians including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal, as well as his famous collaboration with George Harrison lead guitarist of The Beatles. Together with Harrison, Shankar organized the Concert for Bangladesh to raise public awareness and money for refugees from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Although Shankar enjoyed great success in playing with popular rock musicians, he rejected the drug abuse and other aspects of the hippie culture, remaining true to his traditional musical training. Shankar toured the world playing many of his classical compositions for sitar and orchestra. He continued to perform until the end of his life, sometimes with his younger daughter, Anoushka, whom he had taught to play sitar.
Ravi Shankar was born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury on April 7, 1920 in Varanasi, India to a Bengali Brahmin family, the highest caste in Hindu tradition. He was the youngest of seven brothers. His father, Shyam Shankar, was a Middle Temple barrister and scholar who served as dewan of Jhalawar; his mother was Hemangini Devi. They divorced and his father worked as a lawyer in London, England. There he married a second time while Devi raised Shankar in Varanasi. Father and son did not meet until Ravi was eight years old.
Shyam Shankar used the Sanskrit spelling of the family name and removed its last part. His son shortened the Sanskrit version of his first name, Ravindra, to Ravi, for "sun." Shankar was born and raised as a Brahmin and Hindu rituals played an important part in his life.
At the age of ten, after spending his first decade in Varanasi, Ravi Shankar went to Paris with the dance group of his brother, choreographer Uday Shankar. By the age of 13 he had become a member of the group, accompanied its members on tour and learned to dance and play various Indian instruments. Uday's dance group toured Europe and the United States of America in the early to mid-1930s and Shankar learned French, discovered Western classical music, jazz, cinema, and became acquainted with Western customs. Shankar heard the lead musician for the Maihar court, Allauddin Khan, in December 1934 at a music conference in Kolkata and Uday convinced the Maharaja of Maihar in 1935 to allow Khan to become his group's soloist for a tour of Europe. Shankar was sporadically trained by Khan on tour, and Khan offered Shankar training to become a serious musician under the condition that he abandon touring and come to Maihar.
Shankar's parents had died by the time he returned from the European tour, and touring the West had become difficult due to political conflicts that would lead to World War II. Shankar gave up his dancing career in 1938 to go to Maihar and study Indian classical music as Allauddin Khan's pupil, living with his family in the traditional gurukul system. Khan was a rigorous teacher who told Shankar "you have to leave everything else and do one thing properly." During a period of seven and a half years with Khan, Shankar had training on sitar and surbahar, learned ragas and the musical styles dhrupad, dhamar, and khyal, and was taught the techniques of the instruments rudra veena, rubab, and sursingar. He often studied with Khan's children Ali Akbar Khan and Annapurna Devi. Shankar began to perform publicly on sitar in December 1939 and his debut performance was a jugalbandi (duet) with Ali Akbar Khan, who played the string instrument sarod.
Shankar married Khan's daughter Annapurna Devi in 1941 and a son, Shubhendra Shankar, was born in 1942. He separated from Devi during the 1940s and began a relationship with Kamala Shastri, a dancer, that lasted until 1981. During his time with Shastri, Shankar had affairs with several other women:"I felt I could be in love with different women in different places. It was like having a girl in every port - and sometimes there was more than one!" An affair with Sue Jones, a New York concert producer, led to the birth of Norah Jones in 1979. In 1981, Anoushka Shankar was born to Shankar and Sukanya Rajan. After separating from Shastri, Shankar lived with Sue Jones until 1986. He married Sukanya Rajan in 1989, and they lived in Encinitas, California. As a result of this marriage, Sue Jones forbade Shankar from visiting their daughter Norah, although they were able to rebuild their relationship after Norah turned eighteen.
On December 6, 2012, Shankar was admitted to Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, San Diego, California after complaining of breathing difficulties. He had been suffering from upper-respiratory and heart issues for several months. Ravi Shankar died on December 11, 2012.
Shankar completed his musical training with Allauddin Khan in 1944 and moved to Mumbai where he joined the Indian People's Theatre Association, for whom he composed music for ballets in 1945 and 1946. Shankar recomposed the music for the popular song "Sare Jahan Se Achcha" at the age of 25. He began to record music for HMV India and worked as a music director for All India Radio (AIR), New Delhi, from February 1949 to January 1956. Shankar founded the Indian National Orchestra at AIR and composed for it; in his compositions he combined Western and classical Indian instrumentation. Beginning in the mid-1950s he composed the music for the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, which became internationally acclaimed.
V. K. Narayana Menon, director of AIR Delhi, introduced the Western violinist Yehudi Menuhin to Shankar during Menuhin's first visit to India in 1952. Shankar had performed as part of a cultural delegation in the Soviet Union in 1954 and Menuhin invited Shankar in 1955 to perform in New York City for a demonstration of Indian classical music, sponsored by the Ford Foundation. Shankar declined to attend due to problems in his marriage, but recommended Ali Akbar Khan to play instead. Khan reluctantly accepted and performed with tabla (percussion) player Chatur Lal in the Museum of Modern Art, and he later became the first Indian classical musician to perform on American television and record a full raga performance, for Angel Records.
Shankar heard about the positive response Khan received and resigned from AIR in 1956 to tour the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. He played for smaller audiences and educated them about Indian music, incorporating ragas from the South Indian Carnatic music in his performances, and recorded his first LP album Three Ragas in London, released in 1956. In 1958, Shankar participated in the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the United Nations and UNESCO music festival in Paris. From 1961, he toured Europe, the United States, and Australia, and became the first Indian to compose music for non-Indian films. Chatur Lal accompanied Shankar on tabla until 1962, when Alla Rakha assumed the role. Shankar founded the Kinnara School of Music in Mumbai in 1962.
Shankar befriended Richard Bock, founder of World Pacific Records, on his first American tour and recorded most of his albums in the 1950s and 1960s for Bock's label. The Byrds recorded at the same studio and heard Shankar's music, which led them to incorporate some of its elements in theirs, introducing the genre to their friend George Harrison of The Beatles. Harrison became interested in Indian classical music, bought a sitar and used it to record the song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)." This led to Indian music being used by other musicians and created the raga rock trend.
Jazz musician John Coltrane became interested in Shankar's music in the early 1960s, and was introduced to him in 1964. They spent time together, with Coltrane becoming increasingly interested in Indian music. Coltrane named his son Ravi after Shankar in 1965. He planned to spend a prolonged period of study with Shankar in 1967, but died before that could happen.
Harrison met Shankar in London in 1966 and visited India for six weeks to study sitar under Shankar in Srinagar. During the visit, a documentary film about Shankar named Raga was shot by Howard Worth, and released in 1971. Shankar's association with Harrison greatly increased Shankar's popularity and Ken Hunt of Allmusic would state that Shankar had become "the most famous Indian musician on the planet" by 1966. In 1967, he performed at the Monterey Pop Festival and won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for West Meets East, a collaboration with Yehudi Menuhin. The same year, the Beatles won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band which included "Within You Without You" by Harrison, a song that was influenced by Indian classical music.
Shankar opened a Western branch of the Kinnara School of Music in Los Angeles, California, in May 1967, and published an autobiography, My Music, My Life, in 1968. In 1968, he scored for the movie Charly. He performed at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, and found he disliked the venue. In the 1970s Shankar distanced himself from the hippie movement.
In October 1970, Shankar became chair of the department of Indian music of the California Institute of the Arts after previously teaching at the City College of New York, the University of California, Los Angeles, and being guest lecturer at other colleges and universities, including the Ali Akbar College of Music. In late 1970, the London Symphony Orchestra invited Shankar to compose a concerto with sitar; Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra was performed with André Previn as conductor and Shankar playing the sitar. He and George Harrison organized the charity Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971. After the musicians had tuned up on stage for over a minute, the crowd broke into applause, to which the amused Shankar responded, "If you like our tuning so much, I hope you will enjoy the playing more". Although interest in Indian music had decreased in the early 1970s, the concert album became one of the best-selling recordings to feature the genre and won Shankar a second Grammy Award.
During the 1970s, Shankar and Harrison worked together again, recording Shankar Family & Friends in 1973 and touring North America the following year to a mixed response after Shankar had toured Europe with the Harrison-sponsored Music Festival from India. The demanding schedule weakened Shankar, and he suffered a heart attack in Chicago in November 1974, causing him to miss a portion of the tour. In his absence, Shankar's sister-in-law, singer Lakshmi Shankar, conducted the touring orchestra. They visited the White House on invitation of John Gardner Ford, son of U.S. President Gerald Ford. Shankar toured and taught for the remainder of the 1970s and the 1980s and released his second concerto, Raga Mala, conducted by Zubin Mehta, in 1981. Shankar was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for his work on the 1982 movie Gandhi, but lost to John Williams' E.T. He served as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India, from 12 May 1986 to 11 May 1992, after being nominated by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Shankar composed the dance drama Ghanashyam in 1989. His liberal views on musical cooperation led him to contemporary composer Philip Glass, with whom he released an album, Passages, in 1990.
Shankar performed between 25 and 40 concerts every year during the late 1990s. He underwent an angioplasty in 1992 due to heart problems, after which George Harrison involved himself in several of Shankar's projects, including serving as editor of Shankar's second autobiography, Raga Mala. Shankar became a Regent's Lecturer at University of California, San Diego in 1997. In the 2000s, he won a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album for Full Circle: Carnegie Hall 2000 and toured with Anoushka, whom he had taught to play sitar. Anoushka performed a composition by Shankar for the 2002 Harrison memorial Concert for George and Shankar wrote a third concerto for sitar and orchestra for Anoushka and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She released a book about her father, Bapi: The Love of My Life, in 2002.
Shankar performed his final concert, with daughter Anoushka, on November 4, 2012 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California.
Shankar developed a style distinct from that of his contemporaries and incorporated influences from rhythm practices of Carnatic music. Narayana Menon of The New Grove Dictionary noted Shankar's liking for rhythmic novelties, among them the use of unconventional rhythmic cycles.
Shankar popularized performing on the bass octave of the sitar for the alap section and became known for a distinctive playing style in the middle and high registers that used quick and short deviations of the playing string and his sound creation through stops and strikes on the main playing string. His performances begin with solo alap, jor, and jhala (introduction and performances with pulse and rapid pulse) influenced by the slow and serious dhrupad genre, followed by a section with tabla accompaniment featuring compositions associated with the prevalent khyal style. Shankar often closed his performances with a piece inspired by the light-classical thumri genre.
Shankar also promoted the jugalbandi duet concert style and introduced new ragas, including Tilak Shyam, Nat Bhairav, and Bairagi.
Shankar won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury at the 1957 Berlin International Film Festival for composing the music for the movie Kabuliwala. He was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 1962, and was named a Fellow of the academy for 1975. He received the music award of the UNESCO International Music Council in 1975, three Grammy Awards, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Shankar was awarded honorary degrees from universities in India and the United States. Other awards include the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 1991 and the Polar Music Prize in 1998.
In 2001, Shankar was made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Elizabeth II for his "services to music." He was also awarded France's highest civilian honor, the Knight of the Legion of Honour. Shankar was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1997 received the Praemium Imperiale for music from the Japan Art Association. In 2010, Shankar received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and in 2012 the University of Melbourne established The Ravi Shankar Scholarship for World Music.
After his death it was announced that Shankar was to be a recipient of the lifetime achievement Grammy award.
Ravi Shankar was not only a virtuoso on the sitar, playing and composing music in his home country of India, he also became world famous, bringing the tradition of Indian sitar music to the world: He was hailed as "a national treasure and global ambassador of India's cultural heritage." Immediately following Shankar's death, condolences were extended by the President of India, Prime Minister of India, and Indian parliament.
Shankar's children were also musically talented. Shubhendra "Shubho" Shankar often accompanied his father on tours, playing the sitar and surbahar, but elected not to pursue a solo career. He died in 1992.
Norah Jones became a successful musician in the 2000s, winning eight Grammy Awards in 2003.
Shankar trained his daughter Anoushka on the sitar and they played many concerts together. Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2003. Anoushka and her father were nominated for Best World Music Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards for separate albums. India's Ambassador to the U.S. Nirupuma Rao wrote: "Pandit Ravi Shankar: his last concert was particularly poignant. Anoushka and he played together in perfect unison. A torch was passed." 
Ravi Shankar had numerous solo recordings published, including:
All links retrieved April 8, 2014.
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