Ravi Shankar, RIP: A performance on the Dick Cavett Show, and a reporter's recollections of a visit with Raviji

George Harrison of the Beatles, studying sitar with Pandit Ravi Shankar.

In the clip above, the late Indian music legend Pandit Ravi Shankar (web, Wikipedia, Amazon) performs on the Dick Cavett show, in an episode where his friend George Harrison of the Beatles introduces him to the viewing audience.

His family and his foundation have released a statement on the day of his death (PDF), with an obituary by Oliver Craske, a writer and editor who worked on Raviji's autobiography, ‘Raga Mala.’ Snip:

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.

Read the rest here at the Shankar Foundation website. He had upper-respiratory and heart problems, and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week. The surgery was successful, but recovery was too much for the 92-year-old musician. His last performance was with his daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar, on November 4 in Long Beach, California. It was a celebration of his tenth decade of creating music.

I interviewed him in 2003 at his home north of San Diego for Grammy Magazine. The article is no longer online, but I'll try to dig it up from the old print copy. His home was set up a little like an Indian villa, and I remember feeling like I was back in India as I sat on the floor in the room where he received guests and visiting reporters. He was very patient and attentive; very sweet to this starstruck and stuttering reporter.

Asking him questions about his formative years as a young musician, his early life, his years with the Beatles—it was such an amazing experience for someone who'd grown up revering his work as I had.

He had an awesome sense of humor, and told me great tales about what it was like to be the most famous Indian musician in the world during the sixties, hordes of groupies and superstardom and all. The racier bits didn't make it in to the story, but man, they sure were some crazy tales.

He won eight Grammys that year, a few months after the piece ran.

Backstage at one of his performances with Anoushka (a totally amazing show!), his wife Sukanya told me he was grateful to me, because he thought the article I wrote had something to do with him being awarded all those Grammys.

It did not, but it was one of the great, great honors of my life to sit in the home of this legendary man, whose music transformed the lives of so many, and transformed the way we think about music itself.

What a sad day today is. What a great legacy this man leaves us.

In the New York Times, a roundup of observations on his passing, from within India and around the world.


  1. how surreal and inspiring it must have been to visit him at his home..   glad you had the chance to sit and talk with him Xeni.. im sure it was a wonderful interview (i’d love to read it when you find it) and i’m sure he genuinely appreciated your sincerity, intelligence, and charm.

  2. And that’s the late, great Alla Rakha (Zakir Hussain’s father) on tabla… Great clip of the masters!

  3. Pandit Ravishankar was a truly global ambassador, a great human being. The donations to bangladesh at war times shows his human side. He had connected east to west, tradition to modernity in the world. I’m really thankful for all the videos of Pandit Ravishankar. May his soul rest in peace

  4. When I was a youngster I encountered the LP he made with Menuhin and wore it out. Stunning, moving, ineffable musicianship. I then saw him once, at Avery Fisher Hall back in the 80’s; only concert I’ve ever gone to alone, because I didn’t know anyone then who appreciated this kind of music. RS gave you more than an evening’s entertainment; he opened a window to the Formless, to the source of all music, all art, all love.

  5. I saw him once in the early 70s on Long Island. After his first number brought thunderous applause, he explained to us that in India people customarily clap DURING a piece as well, and the musicians find it very inspiring, so please don’t wait until the end to participate.  So all during the next piece, whenever he played something that really made me gasp, I clapped and hooted and whistled.  The whole audience glared at me…but he and Allah Rakha were electrified by the feedback, and proceeded to outdo themselves. I mean, they FLEW. When that raga was over, he thanked me, “…the one who listens so well,”and people stopped glaring at me and started emulating me.  It ended up being one of the best musical experiences of a long lifetime.  At the end of the night, they did a bit that they often used to close concerts, where Allah Rakha would play a short but complex rhythmic riff, and then Ravi would instantly copy it on sitar.  But THAT night, whatever Allah Rakha played, Ravi played it BACKWARDS.  Perfectly.  Even Allah Rakha was visibly stunned…and inspired. I’ve thought of that night often–the two friends grinning like thieves at one another, spraying sweat, and trying their futile best to trip each other up. RIP, Pandit Shankar.

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