As the music industry's collective heart weighs heavy with news that legendary sitar player Ravi Shankar passed away yesterday, some comfort can be found in tonight's Hurricane Sandy benefit show at Madison Square Garden.
When the likes of Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen gather this evening for 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief, music's biggest names will be carrying a torch Shankar helped light 41-years ago at the same New York City venue.
In 1971, Shankar and his sitar student, Beatles guitarist George Harrison, organized The Concert for Bangladesh, the first benefit show of its kind.
Superstars like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Ringo Starr performed two shows on August 1, 1971 with the common goal of raising as much money as possible for civil war-torn Bangladesh. They raised about $250,000, and millions more in live album sales.
But humanitarian is only one word that will forever define Shankar's life.
Virtuoso is another.
"When my niece and nephews made me hear ["Norwegian Wood"]--and that was after I met George [Harrison], I hadn't heard anything before that--I was not much impressed," Shankar quipped in a 1997 interview with VH1. "But I saw the effort."
Harrison learned, as best he could, to play the sitar on his own, recording "Norwegian Wood" in standard western tuning with for the Beatles' 1965 record, Rubber Soul.
Shortly thereafter, however, Harrison asked Shankar to teach him how to properly play the Indian string instrument.
"Although my intellect didn't really know what was happening, or didn't know much about the music, just the pure sound of it and what was playing appealed to me so much," Harrison said in the same1997 interview with VH1. "It hit a spot in me very deep, and I just recognized it somehow."
The world recognized it as well.
"When George became my student, I got a new audience: the younger generation," Shankar told Rolling Stone in 1997. "And, of course, they came like a flood because the whole thing happened with the hippie movement and this interest in Indian culture."
"India has lost an eminent son," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement. "The world of sitar has lost one of its ablest exponents ever and a shining light in the firmament of music has been extinguished. Like many others around the world, I join you in grieving this loss and in extending to you and your loved ones my heartfelt condolences."
With his family by his side, Shankar took his final breath yesterday after battling years of declining health. He was 92.
Read the Shankar family's statement below.
It is with heavy hearts we write to inform you that Pandit Ravi Shankar, husband, father, and musical soul, passed away today, December 11th, 2012.
As you all know, his health has been fragile for the past several years and on Thursday he underwent a surgery that could have potentially given him a new lease of life. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors taking care of him, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery. We were at his side when he passed away.
We know that you all feel our loss with us, and we thank you for all of your prayers and good wishes through this difficult time. Although it is a time for sorrow and sadness, it is also a time for all of us to give thanks and to be grateful that we were able to have him as a part of our lives. His spirit and his legacy will live on forever in our hearts and in his music.
- Sukanya & Anoushka Shankar