Ravi Shankar was born in Varanasi, India, one of the oldest and holiest cities in the world. He spent his teen years as part of a traveling dance group, which offered him a unique mixture of Indian tradition and contemporary Western culture that would prove to be an extremely prominent driving force behind his creativity as a musician and composer. He devoted his late teens and early twenties to studying music, moving on to compose for Indian theater and radio. He quickly became known throughout his country as a virtuoso of the sitar. In 1956, he embarked on a tour through Europe and America, making it his mission to teach the Western World about Indian music and tradition. This earned him the attention of bands like The Byrds, and eventually led him to form a collaborative relationship with George Harrison of The Beatles. Almost overnight, the sitar went from an exotic sound from the old world to an integral atmospheric element of psychedelic pop music.
Shankar’s musical accolades span across half a century, including three Grammy awards, an Academy Award nomination, honorary knighthood in Great Britain, and numerous residencies as an instructor for several music schools throughout America and India. He performed on the stage of Woodstock music festival in 1969, recorded an album in collaboration with Philip Glass, and has toured the world in celebration of the unification of Indian folk music with contemporary music, an evolution that he witnessed progress from the earliest days of television up to the modern digital era. Shankar’s musical legacy knows no boundaries, but many of his greatest achievements are tied to his acts as a civil servant. Shankar was selected by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to serve in the upper chamber of the Parliament of India from 1986 to 1992.
As further proof of the talent running through the Shankar bloodline, look no further than Ravi’s daughters. Anoushka Shankar has in turn made a name for herself as a sitarist and composer, often sharing the stage with her father, who continues to perform even into his nineties. Another of his daughters established herself on the more contemporary end of the musical spectrum – modern jazz pop sensation Norah Jones has won nine Grammy awards and sold over forty million albums worldwide.