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Ravi Shankar, Sitar Player Who Influenced the Beatles, Father of Norah Jones, Dead at 92

Ravi Shankar, George Harrison Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Beatles wouldn't have become the band they eventually were without Ravi Shankar.

The iconic Indian sitar player and composer, who schooled George Harrison in Eastern music in the mid-1960s and remained a force on the world music scene until the end of his life, died today. Shankar, who was also the father of Grammy-winning jazz-pop singer Norah Jones, was 92.

"It's with a very heavy heart that I confirm this sad news," Shankar's manager, Earl Blackburn, emailed Bloomberg.com. The artist passed away at a hospital near his home in Southern California after undergoing heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday.

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Despite being in poor health for the last year, Shankar just earned a 2013 Grammy nomination for Best World Music Album for The Living Room Sessions, Part 1. His youngest daughter, Anoushka Shankar, who he often toured with in recent years, was also nominated in the same category, for Traveller.

In addition to Jones and daughter Anoushka, he is survived by son Shubhendra. All three of his children have different mothers.

Jones, who was raised by her mom, Sue Jones, has said in interviews that she saw her father several times a year until she was 9, after which she didn't see him again until she was 18. 

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Shankar was born in Varanasi in Utta Pradesh state in northern India, the youngest of seven brothers. He later shortened the Sanskrit spelling of his birth name, Ravindra, to Ravi, or sun.

Harrison, who met Shankar in London in 1965 and then famously spent six weeks in India with him studying the sitar, called him "the godfather of world music."

In 1967, Shankar played the Monterey Pop Festival and won a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance for West Meets East. The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which included Harrison's India-inspired "Within You Without You," was named Album of the Year.

He and Harrison, who played and sang on Shankar Family & Friends in 1973, last worked together in 1997, when Harrison produced his former mentor's album Chants of India.

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So great was his influence that jazz saxophonist John Coltrane named his son Ravi after he spent time with the sitar player learning the fundamentals of Indian classical music. In addition to the Beatles' use of the sitar and Eastern sounds, Shankar's influence extended to the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, the Animals and more in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

But Shankar's mastery of his own style and his affinity for combining the traditional sounds of the East with the modern rock coming out of the West made him a global superstar all on his own.

He recorded dozens of studio and live albums, wrote numerous compositions for dance troupes and orchestras, and, with George Fenton, composed the Oscar-nominated score for the 1982 film Gandhi. He also served in the Indian Parliament between 1986 and 1992.

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