Ravi Shankar, 92; sitar virtuoso inspired the Beatles

Ravi Shankar won three Grammys during his career.
Associated Press
Ravi Shankar won three Grammys during his career.

NEW DELHI — Ravi Shankar, the sitar virtuoso who became a hippie music icon of the ’60s after hobnobbing with the Beatles and who introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over a 10-decade career, died Tuesday.

The musician’s website said he died in San Diego, near his home. His foundation said he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India also confirmed his death and called Mr. Shankar, 92, a ‘‘national treasure.’’


Labeled ‘‘the godfather of world music’’ by George Harrison, Mr. Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz, and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

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He also pioneered the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

His last musical performance was with his other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright, on Nov. 4 in Long Beach, Calif. The multiple Grammy winner learned he had again been nominated for the award before his surgery.

As early as the 1950s, Mr. Shankar began collaborating with and teaching some of the greats of Western music, including violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, but struggled to bridge the musical gap between the West and the East.

Describing an early tour in 1957, Time magazine said, ‘‘US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled.’’


His close relationship with Harrison shot Mr. Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.

Harrison had grown fascinated with the sitar, a long necked, string instrument that uses a bulbous gourd for its resonating chamber and resembles a giant lute. He played the instrument, with a Western tuning, on the song ‘‘Norwegian Wood,’’ but soon sought out Mr. Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to play it properly.