January 2013

Remembering Ravi Shankar, a Musical and Cultural Icon

Ravi ShankarRavi Shankar

Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar’s performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival in California introduced him to a new generation of music fans.

People around the world remembered the legacy of music legend Ravi Shankar when he died on December 11, 2012, at the age of 92. Shankar was famous for playing the sitar, a traditional string instrument from his country of India. He helped introduce Indian music to people in the West. “The West” refers to the countries of Europe and other nations where many of the people are of European descent. Shankar also helped share the cultures and traditions of India by performing his music in many places around the world.

Ravi Shankar was born in Varanasi, India, on April 7, 1920. He spent many hours of his youth learning how to play the sitar. When he was 10 years old, he toured as part of his brother’s dance group. During that time, he learned much about traditional Indian music and dance. Later, when he started traveling the world to play music, he came to appreciate many different cultures. He shared ideas and worked with classical musicians from the West, including American violinist Yehudi Menuhin.

Over time, Ravi Shankar became one of the greatest sitar players and also a teacher. One of his most famous students was George Harrison, a member of the British rock group the Beatles. Harrison played sitar on one of the Beatles’ most popular albums, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Shankar had also been a teacher to well-known American jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane became such good friends with Shankar that he named his son Ravi after him. Today, Ravi Coltrane is also a jazz saxophonist, carrying on his father’s tradition.

In the late 1960s, Shankar played at popular music festivals in America, such as the Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock. These performances helped Shankar become better known in the United States. Many people who became fans of Shankar also learned about Eastern culture. Partly because of Shankar’s influence, a new kind of music, known as world music, became popular. World music blends the musical styles of many different cultures.

When people needed help after a war between Bangladesh and Pakistan in South Asia, Ravi Shankar and George Harrison came together to hold a benefit, or charity, concert. The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 raised money for refugees of that war. It was the first time a concert was held to raise money for a cause.

Throughout his life, Shankar continued to play concerts. He also wrote music for films and experimented with different kinds of music. In November 2012, he gave his last public performance—a concert with his daughter Anoushka Shankar. She is a master sitar player as well. Ravi Shankar is also survived by another daughter, Grammy-Award-winning singer Norah Jones. Shankar himself was a three-time Grammy Award winner. He will be honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Grammy Awards in February. His daughters plan to represent him at the ceremony.

Image credit: ©Bruce Fleming/Rex Features via AP Images

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Question 1
What musical instrument did Ravi Shankar play?

Question 2
At which popular music festival did Ravi Shankar perform?

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