Sitar legend Ravi Shankar dies at 92

Story highlights

  • Ringo Starr: "Ravi was a great loss musically, spiritually and physically"
  • Shankar taught Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar
  • India's prime minister praises the man and his music
  • His ethereal sound embodied Eastern transcendence for Westerners

His music transcended trends and cultural barriers. Pandit Ravi Shankar's life, which traversed nearly a century, ended Tuesday.

The legendary sitar player, who taught Beatle George Harrison how to play the stringed instrument and brought Indian music to the West, passed away at age 92 in the early evening in San Diego, near his home, according to his wife, Sukanya, and daughter Anoushka Shankar, who were by his side.

Shankar was the father of jazz singer Norah Jones as well. He is also survived by three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, according to his record label, East Meets West Music.

His health had suffered over the past year, according to a statement from his record label, and he underwent heart valve replacement surgery last Thursday.

"Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery," his wife and daughter said.

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Shankar's gift went beyond his skills on the strings

In the 1960s, he took Eastern music mainstream in the West. He lent ethereal, spiritual sounds to the Fab Four through his friendship with Harrison, who recorded them on the "Sgt. Pepper's" album in the song "Within You Without You."

    Virtuoso performances at Monterey in 1967 and Woodstock in 1969 helped cement Shankar's place in Western musical history as an ambassador of Eastern wisdom to a generation looking for new values.

    "Ravi was a great loss musically, spiritually and physically. God bless to Ravi's family. Peace & Love," Beatle Ringo Starr said in a statement released through a representative.

    Singer Peter Gabriel hailed Shankar as an inspiration who "opened the door to non-western music for millions of people around the world."

    "He was very serious about his music, and I remember at one WOMAD performance, he stopped the music to ask his audience not to point their feet at him as that was seen as offensive in India," Gabriel said in a statement. "He was also warm, witty and mischievous as a man. He will be badly missed."

    Even actress Pamela Anderson weighed in tweeting one of Shankar's music videos.

    In Bangladesh's bloody war of separation from Pakistan in 1971, Shankar and Harrison launched what UNICEF calls the first massive fund-raising pop event, The Concert for Bangladesh, to generate donations for the flood of refugees pouring into India.

    Opinion: Shankar, emissary for world beat

    Later, from 1986 to 1992, Shankar put his politics into practice as a member of India's upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha, or state assembly, serving with India's current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

    "It was difficult, often, to judge what was more remarkable -- the man or his music," Singh said of Shankar on Wednesday. He praised him as one of India's "most effective cultural ambassadors."

    Both houses of parliament observed a moment of silence in his honor.

    Shankar's musical career had a long life before and after the '60s. He was born on April 7, 1920, and when he and Harrison met, he was already 46 and famous in India as a classical musician, according to his record label biography.

    His classical career outlived his counterculture fame, but he continued to meld East with West and composed concertos, which harmonized his sitar with orchestras. He played duos with American classical violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin and composed with American minimalist Philip Glass. He also wrote film music for the Hollywood movie "Gandhi."

    Shankar kept homes in the United States and India.

    Despite ill health, he shared a stage with his daughter Anoushka, also a sitar virtuoso, in early November.

    It was his last public performance.

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