Violinist Yehudi Menuhin was one of the century's great musicians and a visionary who promoted world peace through international cultural cooperation.
Menuhin was an instant sensation when he made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra as a 7-year-old prodigy and went on to become one of the most influential and admired violinists in the world.
Although he seemed almost the embodiment of the classical musician who was lost in the spiritual intensity of his art, Menuhin, in fact, devoted his 75-year career to a remarkably wide range of musical, humanitarian and even political activities — building cultural bridges that included defying the political climate during the Cold War and a groundbreaking collaboration with Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar in the 1960s.
Menuhin said in 1982 that as high as he put the priority of his performances, he placed the concerns of his fellow men even higher.
Consequently, he founded schools for gifted young instrumentalists in Stoke d'Abernon, England, and Gstaad, Switzerland, where he often conducted master classes and regularly used his own celebrity to promote his prodigies.
Menuhin worked to raise money for UNESCO and lobbied for racial equality in South Africa. He spoke out against narrow political nationalism in any form, including music.
Although in 1985 he decided to become a British citizen, the U.S.-born Menuhin was noted for his service to America. During World War II, he was a stirring cultural embodiment of the Allied war effort. He played more than 500 concerts during the war, often for the entertainment of Allied troops, and he followed the U.S. Army into Paris, Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium.
Menuhin was "America's best ambassador," said a State Department official, and the musician was awarded a Kennedy Center honor by President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
Menuhin was born April 22, 1916, in New York City, the only child of Russian immigrants. When Yehudi was still a baby, the family moved to San Francisco, which the violinist considered his hometown. His parents introduced their son to classical music early, taking him as an infant to concerts in San Francisco.
No one ever questioned Menuhin's high-mindedness in all things. And he made more than 100 recordings, many classics, which now stand as his musical legacy.