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Ravi Shankar

Sitar virtuoso;

Born: April 7, 1920; Died: December 11, 2012.

Indian sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, who has died at the age of 92, helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers in the West discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music over an eight-decade career.

He was a hippie musical icon of the 1960s who played at Woodstock and rubbed shoulders with The Beatles. George Harrison described him as the godfather of world music.He also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert For Bangladesh. To later generations he was known as the estranged father of popular American singer Norah Jones.

Shankar collaborated with Harrison, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as he worked to bridge the musical gap between West and East.

Describing an early Shankar tour in 1957, Time magazine said US audiences were receptive but occasionally puzzled.

But it was his close relationship with Harrison that took Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s. Harrison had a growing fascination with the sitar, a long-necked string instrument that uses a bulbous gourd for its resonating chamber and resembles a giant lute. He played the instrument, with a Western tuning, on the song Norwegian Wood, but soon sought out Shankar, already a musical icon in India, to teach him to play it properly.

The pair spent weeks together, starting the lessons at Harrison's house in England and then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song Within You Without You on the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, helping spark the raga-rock phase of 1960s music and drawing increasing attention to Shankar and his work.

Shankar's popularity exploded and he found himself playing on bills with some of the leading rock musicians of the era. He played a four-hour set at the Monterey International Pop Festival and the opening day of Woodstock.

Though the audience for his music had hugely expanded, Shankar, a serious, disciplined traditionalist who had played Carnegie Hall, chafed against the drug use and rebelliousness of the hippie culture.

"I was shocked to see people dressing so flamboyantly. They were all stoned. To me, it was a new world," he told Rolling Stone magazine of the Monterey festival.

While he enjoyed Otis Redding and The Mamas and The Papas at the festival, he was horrified when Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire.

"That was too much for me. In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God," he said.

Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury was born in the Indian city of Varanasi. At the age of 10 he moved to Paris to join the world famous dance troupe of his brother Uday. Over the next eight years, Shankar travelled with the troupe across Europe, America and Asia, and later credited his early immersion in foreign cultures for making him such an effective ambassador for Indian music.

In the 1950s Shankar began gaining fame throughout India. He held the influential position of music director for All India Radio in New Delhi and wrote the scores for several popular films. He began writing compositions for orchestras, blending clarinets and other foreign instruments into traditional Indian music.

He became a de facto tutor for Westerners fascinated by India's musical traditions. He became close friends with Menuhin, recording the acclaimed West Meets East album with him. He also collaborated with flautist Jean Pierre Rampal, composer Philip Glass and conductors Andre Previn and Zubin Mehta.

Shankar's personal life was more complex. His 1941 marriage to Baba Allaudin Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, ended in divorce. Though he had a decades-long relationship with dancer Kamala Shastri that ended in 1981, he had relationships with several other women in the 1970s.

In 1979 he fathered Norah Jones with New York concert promoter Sue Jones, and in 1981 Sukanya Rajan, who played the tanpura at his concerts, gave birth to his daughter Anoushka.

He grew estranged from Sue Jones in the 1980s and didn't see Norah for a decade, though they later re-established contact.

He married Rajan in 1989 and trained young Anoushka as his heir on the sitar. In recent years, father and daughter toured the world together.

When Norah Jones shot to stardom and won five Grammy awards in 2003, Anoushka Shankar was nominated for a Grammy of her own. Shankar himself has won three Grammy awards and was nominated for an Oscar for his musical score for the movie Gandhi.

He is survived by his wife and daughters Anoushka and Norah. He also had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, with his first wife. He died in 1992.

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