Ravi Shankar was one of the first musicians to enlighten Western listeners about Indian music. Without him, "Paint it Black" and "Norwegian Wood" would sound incomplete. The sitar maestro died from respiratory and heart problems yesterday. Shankar had received heart-valve replacement surgery last week, just after being nominated for another Grammy. He died in his San Diego home with his wife and a daughter by his side, they confirmed on his website last night.
Shankar was one of the first Indian classical musicians to take the sitar beyond the country's borders, touring Europe and the U.S. in the 1950s for "occasionally puzzled" audiences, according to an early Time magazine review. By the 1960s, though, Western ears had caught on. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and George Harrison of the Beatles started playing the sitar in pop songs, and Shankar was a star on stage at Woodstock, the Monterey Pop Festival, and the Concert for Bangladesh.
"It's one of the biggest losses for the music world," says UC San Diego professor and Shankar student Kartic Seshadri. "There's nothing more to be said." Here's Shankar teaching neophyte George Harrison, who called Shankar "the godfather of world music," how to play the sitar: