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Sitar Virtuoso Ravi Shankar, 92, Popularized Indian Music for Western Audiences

December 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Virtuoso sitar player Ravi Shankar inspired a new fascination with and appreciation for classical Indian music in Western popular culture. Judy Woodruff remembers the man who tutored Beatles guitarist George Harrison, performed at Woodstock and won three Grammy awards. Shankar passed away at the age of 92.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, we remember Indian musical icon Ravi Shankar, who introduced Western audiences to a new sound and a new instrument.

The legendary sitar virtuoso brought his unique sound to an international stage, striking a chord with music lovers around the world. In New Delhi, India, today, at the music institute named for Ravi Shankar, students came to pay their respects.

PARIMAL SADAPHAL, student (through translator): The purity, sweetness, and innovation in his music that we have seen over the years, his legacy will continue. Even if we keep trying, it is difficult to reach his level.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shankar’s contributions were also praised by his peers in the music industry.

SHANTI HIRANAND, Indian classical singer: He was a great, great artist. I mean, he took sitar to the world, and today that sitar is being played all over the world is because of him.

JUDY WOODRUFF: From the 1950s on, the self-taught Shankar sought to build a new appreciation for classical Indian music and the long-necked string instrument he played. Then, in the 1960s, his influence spread into Western rock music, after Beatles lead guitarist George Harrison asked Shankar to tutor him.

RAVI SHANKAR: I was immediately charmed and attracted to young boy, George, because of his sincerity. And he really wanted to know so much about our music.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In short order, Shankar came to share top billing with leading rock musicians, even performing on the opening day at Woodstock in 1969. In 1971, he pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the Concert for Bangladesh.

Along the way, Shankar won three Grammy Awards and received an Oscar nomination with the score for the movie “Gandhi.”

RAVI SHANKAR: You see, what I have been able to do was only popularize and make our music understood and appreciated in the proper manner. That has been my mission. And I feel very happy that it’s almost I have completed that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ravi Shankar died Tuesday at a hospital in Southern California after suffering heart problems at the age of 92. He is survived by two daughters, Grammy Award-winning musician Norah Jones, and Anoushka Shankar, an accomplished sitar player and composer.

On Art Beat, you can watch clips from two of Shankar’s most famous performances from the 1960s.