On this day in 1979, one of America’s most beloved singer-songwriters was born. Through her down-to-earth voice and introspective lyricism, Norah Jones has been a powerhouse in the music industry since her multi-platinum debut album, Come Away With Me, was released in 2002. Her nine Grammys demonstrate how Norah Jones has been able to create a name for herself. However, this name is not the one she was born with. Her birth name is reflective of a very musical genealogy, but probably not from a source that would be your first guess. Or your second.
Norah Jones was born Geetali Norah Jones Shankar, daughter of sitar legend Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones. Ravi Shankar rose to international prominence in 1966 after his famous pupil, George Harrison of the Beatles, began taking sitar lessons with Shankar in India. In 1969, Shankar was invited to perform in the Woodstock Festival, further cementing his place as a musical icon.
Ravi Shankar was a master of Indian classical music and played a huge role in bringing that style into the limelight during the ‘60s. Bands like The Byrds and most notably the Beatles were influenced greatly by his work in some of their own songs.
Ravi Shankar admits in his autobiography, Raga Mala, of his love for loving women. Often having relationships with multiple women at a time, Ravi Shankar had Norah Jones with his concert producer, Sue Jones, while in a relationship with Sukanya Rajan and while married to Kamala Shastri. After separating with Kamala in 1981, Shankar married Sukanya Rajan in 1989. Through all of this, Sue Jones was not on board with Ravi Shankar’s lifestyle and broke ties with him, and thus Norah Jones lived her life mostly independent of Ravi Shankar, until recently when she reconciled with him before his death in 2012. Whereas Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Ravi and Sukanya born in 1981, is a famed sitarist just as her father, Norah Jones has made a living with a different style.
Although Ravi Shankar and Norah Jones do seem to have their obvious differences in terms of musical genre, there are still some interesting similarities between the two. Both incorporate a very laid back and minimalist experience for the listener. Neither father nor daughter has anything that is harsh and abrasive. Both are very willing to explore the boundaries of their comfort zone and delve into different mediums to express their musicality.
Norah Jones is notable for her ability to influence multiple influences into her songs, often all at the same time. She studied jazz piano and sang in jazz groups during her two years at University of North Texas, which is evident in her work. She also infuses hints of blues, country, folk, gospel, and pop throughout her five studio albums. Her voice has been described as sensuous, and it definitely can be sultry at times. However, for the most part I feel that it is just clean and soulful, which she uses together in a powerful combination.
In just 35 years, Norah Jones has sold over 20 million copies and has helped introduce the simplistic singer-songwriter style to a new generation. Undoubtedly, her accomplishments thus far are incredible, but we can only imagine what the WRVU bloggers will be writing about her on her birthday 35 years from now.