NEW DELHI: Legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, who influenced musicians ranging from The Beatles to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, has died aged 92 in the United States after surgery, his family said Wednesday.
Shankar, the father of American singer-songwriter Norah Jones and fellow sitar star Anoushka Shankar, died on Tuesday in hospital in San Diego, California, where he had undergone an operation to replace a heart valve.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed Shankar, who popularised Indian classical music around the world, as “a national treasure and global ambassador of India’s cultural heritage.”
“An era has passed away... The nation joins me to pay tributes to his unsurpassable genius, his art and his humility,” he said.
Shankar, who had houses in California and India, was born into a high-caste Bengali Brahmin family in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in northern India on April 7, 1920.
He taught close friend the late Beatle George Harrison to play the sitar and collaborated with him on several projects, including the ground-breaking Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 to raise awareness of the war-wracked nation.
Harrison called him “The Godfather of World Music” while Menuhin, himself widely considered one of the greatest violinists of the 20th century, compared him to Mozart.
Shankar, a three-time Grammy winner, was on the bill with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix at the Woodstock Festival in New York state in 1969 when 500,000 people gathered for one of the iconic cultural events of the century.
Dressed in traditional Indian clothes and always seated on the floor when playing, he was lauded by the hippie generation but he expressed reservations about the excesses of Western stars and said his priorities were music, yoga and philosophy.
In a statement released from New York via his official Twitter feed, Shankar’s wife Sukanya and one of his two daughters Anoushka described him as a “husband, father, and musical soul.”
“His health has been fragile for the past several years and (last) Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life,” they said.
“Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away.
“Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives.”
His family and the Ravi Shankar Foundation said he had been suffering respiratory and heart problems.
The statement said that Shankar performed his last concert on November 4 in Long Beach, California, with his daughter and fellow Grammy-nominated sitar player Anoushka.
He was survived by his second wife, two daughters, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, it said, adding that memorial plans would be announced shortly. His son Shubendhra, born to his first wife, died in 1992.
The night before his surgery he was informed that his latest album, The Living Room Sessions, Part 1, had received a 2013 Grammy nomination.
“Mourn (the) passing of a musical genius and gentle soul,” Nirupama Menon Rao, the Indian ambassador to the United States, said on her Twitter feed.
Sanjay Sharma, whose family made sitars for Shankar for more than 30 years, told AFP that their client was demanding but appreciative.
“He was the biggest innovator in music,” Sharma said. “He wanted to revolutionize the sitar as an instrument. It was very challenging to work with him but every moment spent with him was be god’s valuable gift to our family.”