Remembering Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar in 1988(Photo: Wikipedia)
Ravi Shankar in 1988(Photo: Wikipedia)

Legendary Indian musician and composer Ravi Shankar died yesterday at the age of 92.  He was born in 1920, and during his long life did more than anyone to popularize the music of his country for western audiences. 

For many, including me, he was India’s greatest cultural ambassador and a musical inspiration.

There’s no doubt that for many, Shankar’s name became familiar because of his association with George Harrison of The Beatles in the 1960s. 

However Shankar was already an accomplished virtuoso on the sitar and had been touring in Europe and America since the mid 1950s.  His association with violinist Yehudi Menuhin went back to 1952, they made three recordings together in the 1960s and 1970s, and the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was interested in studying with him in the mid 1960s.

While Shankar was a master of the traditional forms of Indian classical music, and that’s what he performed in concerts, he sometimes irked traditionalists in India for his eclectic experimentation when working with musicians of other cultures.  In addition to his recordings with Menuhin, he also recorded with flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass, wrote sitar concertos with western orchestras led by Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta and more recently, one for his daughter, Anoushka, also a virtuoso, with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.

Shankar was a remarkably creative musician and composer and his eclecticism is what made him perhaps the first truly “world music” artist of great acclaim.  Also, it must be added, he had a great personal charisma and charm that people instantly recognized. 

I saw him in concert at Mershon Auditorium in 1988, and it was an uplifting and inspiring musical event.  It was all traditional Indian music (no “crossover” music).  I met him briefly right after the concert and could easily see why he had become such a beloved artist to so many people around the world.  He exuded what felt to me like a great positive spiritual energy and seemed genuinely humble at the same time. 

But then, I had been positively influenced by his music since I was a pretty young fellow back in 1967, and that experience led me to eventually appreciate western classical music more.  And look at what that can lead to–in my case, a classical music radio station!

Thank you, Ravi for great music and inspiration that has helped bridge the gap between human hearts and cultures for nearly a century.

Here’s a clip of Ravi Shankar performing on the Dick Cavett Show many years ago:

 

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