Legendary virtuoso sitarist, composer, teacher, and writer RAVI SHANKAR is India's most esteemed musical ambassador and a singular phenomenon whose artistry crosses all cultural and musical boundaries. A student of the illustrious guru “Baba” Ustad Allaudin Khan, Mr. Shankar was already one of the brightest stars in India before coming to international attention in the 60’s. Since then, he has been the foremost pioneer in disseminating India’s rich classical music tradition to the West.
The youngest son of a Bengali family, Ravi Shankar was born in 1920 in Varansi (Benares), the holiest of Indian cities. At the age of 10, he accompanied elder brother Uday Shankar and his company of dancers and musicians to Paris, where the younger Shankar attended school. He spent several years in the West absorbing different kinds of music before returning to India in 1938 to begin his career. He combined his concert performances with his work for All India Radio (1949–56) where he established the National Chamber Orchestra. As word of his virtuosity spread throughout India, then Europe, Asia and the United States, Mr. Shankar embarked on the most extraordinary international careers in the history of contemporary music.
A prolific and sought-after composer, Ravi Shankar has written numerous works for Western collaborations, in addition to his many traditional ragas and talas. His “Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra” was commissioned and premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra under André Previn. A second sitar concerto, “Raga-Mala,” [A Garland of Ragas] was commissioned and premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta in 1980. Shankar’s chamber works for sitar and other instruments includes violin-sitar compositions for the distinguished violinist Yehudi Menuhin and himself, and works for flute virtuoso Jean-Pierre Rampal, shakuhachi master Hosan Yamamoto, and koto virtuoso Musumi Miyashita. Shankar has enjoyed a close relationship with Philip Glass, collaborating with the composer on the 1990 album “Passages” and the recent multi-artist work “Orion,” which opened the 2004 Cultural Olympiad in Greece.
Ravi Shankar has composed extensively for film and ballet. His scores for Satyajit Ray’s acclaimed “Apu” trilogy raised film music to a new standard of excellence, and he was nominated for both a Grammy and Oscar for his original score to “Gandhi,” the Academy-Award-winning classic by Sir Richard Attenborough. He made history on both the British and Indian cultural scenes with the ballet “Ghanashyam,” which he wrote, composed and choreographed.
Ravi Shankar is the recipient of many awards and honors. including the Presidential Padma Vibhushan Award (1980) and the Award of Deshikottam, given by Vishawa Bharati and presented in December 1982 by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of the Arts and Letters and recipient of twelve honorary doctorates. In 1986, he became a member of the Rajya Sabha, India’s Upper House of Parliament. He is a Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Academy and Founder President of The Research Institute for Music and the Performing Arts.
In 1999, the government of India honored Ravi Shankar by awarding him its highest civilian award, the “Bharat Ratna,” or “Jewel of India.” In 2000, Mr. Shankar received France’s highest civilian award, the “Commandeur de la Légion d’Honneur.” In March 2001, the British High Commissioner and Lady Young awarded Ravi Shankar the “Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.”
Ravi Shankar’s extensive discography of more than 60 albums includes Angel Records’ 1996 release “In Celebration,” a lavishly documented four-CD retrospective of his greatest recordings issued in honor of his 75th birthday, and the 2001 Angel release “Full Circle, Carnegie Hall 2000.” This was Mr. Shankar’s first live-concert recording in nearly two decades for which he received the Grammy Award for Best World Music Record. Angel/EMI continues to release Mr. Shankar’s albums, many of which were previously unavailable on CD.
Mr. Shankar continues to tour each season all over the world. He divides his time between India and the United States, with regular visits to Europe and the Far East. He is the author of three books: “My Music, My Life” (in English), “Rag Anurag” (in Bengali), and “Raga Mala,” (in English), an autobiography that was released in 1999.
Ravi Shankar has been named the “Godfather of World Music” by George Harrison and been given the title “Global Ambassador” by the World Economic Forum. However, there may be no greater tribute paid to this remarkable musician than the words of his colleague Yehudi Menuhin: “Ravi Shankar has brought me a precious gift and through him I have added a new dimension to my experience of music. To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart’s.”