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Ravi Shankar, sitar player who mentored Beatles, dies

With an instrument perplexing to most Westerners, Ravi Shankar helped connect the world through music. The sitar virtuoso, who died Tuesday at 92, mentored a Beatle, became a hippie musical icon and spearheaded the first rock benefit concert as he introduced traditional Indian ragas to Western audiences over nearly a century.

From George Harrison to John Coltrane, from Yehudi Menuhin to David Crosby, his connections reflected music's universality, though a gap persisted between Shankar and many Western fans. Sometimes they mistook tuning for tunes, while he stood aghast at displays like Jimi Hendrix's burning guitar.

"My Dad's music touched millions of people," his daughter, musician Norah Jones, said in a statement. "He will be greatly missed by me and music lovers everywhere."

A statement on his website said he died in San Diego, near his Southern California home, with his wife and a daughter by his side. The musician's foundation issued a statement saying that he had suffered upper respiratory and heart problems and had undergone heart-valve replacement surgery last week.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called him a "national treasure."

Ringo Starr said Shankar's death was "a great loss musically, spiritually and physically."

Labeled "the godfather of world music" by Harrison, Shankar helped millions of classical, jazz and rock lovers discover the centuries-old traditions of Indian music.

Shankar also pioneered the concept of the rock benefit with the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh. To later generations, he was known as Jones' estranged father.

His last musical performance was with his other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar Wright, on Nov. 4 in Long Beach, Calif.; his foundation said it was to celebrate his 10th decade of creating music. The multiple Grammy winner learned that he had again been nominated for the award the night before his surgery.

His close relationship with Harrison, the Beatles' lead guitarist, shot Shankar to global stardom in the 1960s.

Harrison had grown fascinated 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, then moving to a houseboat in Kashmir and later to California.

Gaining confidence with the complex instrument, Harrison recorded the Indian-inspired song "Love You To" on the Beatles' "Revolver," helping spark the raga-rock phase of '60s music and drawing increasing attention to Shankar and his work.

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

Ravindra Shankar Chowdhury was born April 7, 1920, 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 traveled with the troupe across Europe, America and Asia, and later he credited his early immersion in foreign cultures with 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.

And he became a de facto tutor for Westerners fascinated by India's musical traditions.

His 1941 marriage to Baba Allaudin Khan's daughter, Annapurna Devi, ended in divorce. He had relationships with several other women in the 1970s, and a decades-long relationship with dancer Kamala Shastri that ended in 1981.

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 '80s and didn't see Norah Jones for a decade, though they re-established contact later.

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