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Hundreds pay tribute to legendary Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar

Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar performs in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata in this February 7, 2009 file photo. Sitarist and composer S
Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar performs in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata in this February 7, 2009 file photo. Sitarist and composer S

By Roselle Chen

ENCINITAS, California (Reuters) - Ravi Shankar's daughters, Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar, along with the wife of late Beatle George Harrison said their final goodbyes to the Indian sitar virtuoso on Thursday at a public memorial service in Encinitas, California.

The legendary musician and composer, who helped introduce the sitar to the Western world through his collaboration with The Beatles, died on December 11 in Southern California. He was 92.

About 700 people joined Shankar's wife, Sukanya, and family at the service held at a spiritual center in the coastal town about 25 miles north of San Diego.

Olivia Harrison, the widow of Beatles guitarist George Harrison, told Reuters the three-time Grammy winner who formed a musical and spiritual bond with The Beatle "expressed music at its deepest level."

"As a person he was just sweet and seemed to know everything," she added. "He was a true citizen of the world."

Shankar is credited with popularizing Indian music through his work with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and The Beatles beginning in the mid-1960s, inspiring George Harrison to learn the sitar and the British band to record songs like "Norwegian Wood" (1965) and "Within You, Without You" (1967).

"He completely transformed (George's) musical sensibilities," a tearful Harrison told the crowd. "They exchanged ideas and melodies until their hearts and minds were intertwined like a double helix."

'LITTLE CRUMB'

His friendship with Harrison led him to appearances at the Monterey and Woodstock pop festivals in the late 1960s and the 1972 Concert for Bangladesh. He became one of the first Indian musicians to become a household name in the West.

His influence in classical music, including on composer Philip Glass, was just as large. His work with Menuhin on their "West Meets East" albums in the 1960s and 1970s earned them a Grammy, and he wrote concertos for sitar and orchestra for both the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic.

"I always felt like a little crumb in his presence," Zubin Mehta, a former music director of the New York Philharmonic and collaborator with Shankar, said at the service.

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock also attended the service along with "Anna Karenina" director Joe Wright, the husband of Shankar's daughter Anoushka.

Shankar, who had lived in Encinitas for the past 20 years, had suffered from upper respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last week at a hospital in San Diego.

The surgery was successful but he was unable to recover.

Shankar's final concert was on November 4 in Long Beach, California, with his Grammy-winning sitarist daughter Anoushka, who spoke giving thanks to those who came. Jones, the third Grammy-winner in the family, did not speak at the service.

(Writing by Eric Kelsey; editing by Philip Barbara)

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