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Ravi Shankar, 1920–2012, Hated Link With Drugs

The sitar legend, who died yesterday, always hoped fans would "feel high through the music, without drugs."

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King of the sitar. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

12/12/12

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Ravi Shankar, the sitarist and composer known for bringing India’s traditional sitar music to the masses worldwide via The Beatles, died yesterday near his home in Southern California. The 92-year-old father of singer Norah Jones and sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar had suffered from upper respiratory and heart ailments, and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week. Shankar is credited with introducing the sitar to rock music, and worked closely with many of its stars, notably George Harrison. Groups like The Rolling Stones, The Animals and The Byrds then began to include the sitar in their own music, and Shankar went on to perform at festivals like the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 and at Woodstock in 1969. But he eventually began to regret these appearances—because his music became associated with drugs. “People would come to my concerts stoned, and they would sit in the audience drinking Coke and making out with their girlfriends,” he said in 1985. “I found it very humiliating, and there were many times I picked up my sitar and walked away. I tried to make the young people sit properly and listen. I assured them that if they wanted to be high, I could make them feel high through the music, without drugs, if they’d only give me a chance. It was a terrible experience at the time.” Still, Shankar gained lifelong fans: “But you know, many of those young people still come to our concerts,” he added. “They have matured, they are free from drugs, and they have a better attitude. And this makes me happy that I went through all that. I have come full circle.”

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