World music superstar and Beatles inspiration Ravi Shankar has died at age 92. The master of the sitar and father of singer Norah Jones, Shankar was dubbed the "godfather of world music" by late Beatle George Harrison, who collaborated with Shankar for the legendary 1971 benefit Concert For Bangladesh.
According to reports, three-time Grammy winner Shankar died Tuesday at a hospital near his home in Encinitas, California following heart valve replacement surgery last week. In addition to Jones, Shankar was also the father of musician Anoushka Shankar, a Grammy-nominated sitar player and composer.
Born Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury in Varanasi, India, on April 7, 1920, Shankar (whose stage name means "sun") moved to Paris with his mother at age 10 to tour with his brother Uday's Indian dance troupe. Inspired by Indian classical music, he then moved back to his native country at age 13 and studied the sitar for seven years with his teacher, Allaudin Khan.
According to the Los Angeles Times, in the 1950s he helped introduce the world to Indian classical music through the movie scores of Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray's "Apu" trilogy. He later provided the music for Richard Attenborough's landmark biopic "Gandhi," for which he shared an Oscar in 1983 for Best Original Score.
Following well-received collaborations with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz giant John Coltrane, Shankar brought the sound of India to the world thanks to his association with the Beatles.
Mesmerized by his fluid, improvisational playing of the sitar — a long-necked string instrument that looks like an oversized lute — the Beatles invited him to perform on their 1965 song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," which began a lifelong friendship between Shankar and late Beatle George Harrison that lasted until Harrison's death in 2001.
The pair's most famous collaboration was the all-star concert for Bangladesh in 1971, which raised funds for the cyclone-ravaged refugees of what was then known as East Pakistan. The concert, considered the first-ever benefit of its kind of use the power of popular music to raise relief money, featured appearances by Harrison, fellow ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and another Indian musical legend, Ali Akbar Khan. The concert and subsequent movie and album helped inspire later massive benefits, including the 1985 Live Aid concerts.
Shankar's droning raga sound helped set off a revolution in rock, with everyone from the Rolling Stones to the Kinks and the Byrds incorporating his Indian-inspired sound into their music.
He fathered Norah Jones with New York promoter Sue Jones in 1979, and though he was estranged from Sue Jones for much of the 1980s and didn't see Norah for a decade, the pair later re-established contact.
In a 2009 interview with Katie Couric, Jones said she knew who her father was growing up, but saw him only sporadically until she was nine and then not again until she turned 18. "You know, when you have a father who's pretty well known but you don't see him, the last thing you want to do is start talking about him all the time to people," she said about not dropping his name as a young woman.
When she turned 18, though, she sought him out and they remained close after that.