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Remembering Two Goodwill Ambassadors Named Ravi

December 30, 2012

Mike Anderson reflects on the recent passing of Indian music icon Ravi Shankar, and a meeting in India between Ravi Shankar and visiting U.S. musician Ravi Coltrane, the son of jazz legend John Coltrane. This article first appeared in the January 2013 PDAA Today newsletter.

I was saddened to learn of India music icon Ravi Shankar’s recent death in southern California at age 92. His passing brought back memories of numerous official U.S. cultural programs in India and elsewhere that effectively brought American jazz and other musicians together with host-country performers and audiences.

In January of 2005, I remember having the privilege of spending a couple of hours with the great sitar player at his new home/performing arts center, which was close to the U.S. Embassy in the Chanakyapuri area of New Delhi.  The experience had to do with the Cultural Affairs Office’s programming of Ravi Coltrane, the popular jazz musician whose famous musician-father, the late John Coltrane, had named his second son after Ravi Shankar, whom he had long admired.

The younger Coltrane was visiting India as part of a Department of State-BET Jazz-MTV-Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz public-private initiative to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and cross-cultural understanding.  The other jazz stars in the group were Earl Klugh, Al Jarreau, and George Duke.

As part of the jazz stars’ India tour, our office arranged for the younger Ravi to meet the Indian maestro, who at the time was in his mid-80s but still performing, and to conduct a workshop for a talented group of young Indian musicians right in Shankar’s institute. Shankar and his wife, Sukanya Rajan, were gracious hosts, and the younger Ravi was very moved by the opportunity to meet his namesake and to interact with a group of aspiring Indian musicians.

If I remember correctly, it was Coltrane’s first visit to India and only the second time the American musician had met Shankar.

There is — and will be — only one Ravi Shankar.  He was a unique individual, and he did so much to introduce Indian music to America and shape post-1960’s global culture and East-West interaction.  In many ways and over many decades, much of them spent in America, he was India’s most effective goodwill ambassador. Like public diplomacy officers and performers like Ravi Coltrane, Ravi Shankar understood that sharing music can bring about greater understanding between the people of the U.S. and the peoples of the world.

Mike Anderson is a retired FSO and PDAA Board member, who served as Public Affairs Officer in India from 2002 to 2006.


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