Sitar player Ravi Shankar died Tuesday at the age of 92. We’d say we were bummed, but some people get so much done while they’re alive that you can’t help but feel they passed out of a need to seek out new challenges. He is the inspiration for raga rock and Indian classical music’s influence on pop and rock generally. There are lots of awesome traditional instruments all over the world. Why didn’t people get amped on the dhol, the ukulele, the samisen or even the erhu? The answer is that the sitar had Shankar as its brand ambassador and he was a damn rock star. (See dude above.)
He’s got one of those “most interesting man in the world” biographies. Born in Varanasi, India, he started his career in the arts at the age of ten, touring the world with his brother Uday’s classical Indian dance group. He studied sitar and in due time started touring the world again while becoming an icon at home for his prodigious and well-honed chops. The Byrds heard him jamming when they were recording in the same studio and were inspired to adapt his ragas for the guitar. He taught George Harrison how to play the sitar. He played for the hippies at Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival. He collaborated with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, introducing European classical music to Indian classical music. He served in India’s Parliament and received the Bharat Ratna award, an Indian national honor he shares with Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. Somewhere in there he won three Grammys. And that’s about a tenth of all the legendary stuff he got into in his lifetime.
He died at his home in San Diego and is survived by his wife and daughters Anoushka Shankar, who is a world famous sitar badass in her own right, and singer-songwriter Norah Jones.
Here he is, shredding on ’60s TV, like a boss: