been a year since Ustad Ali Akbar Khan has passed away. ITC SRA pays
tribute to the illustrious master of sarode.
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was born on April 14, 1922 in the village
of Shibpur, Comilla, in present-day Bangladesh (then East Bengal),
to revered musician and teacher, Baba Allauddin Khansahib and Madina
Begum. Soon after his birth, the family returned to Maihar (in
present day Madhya Pradesh, India) where his father was the primary
court musician for the Maharaja of the princely state.
From an early age Ali Akbar Khan received training from his father in various
instruments as well as vocal composition, but finally gravitated
towards the sarode. Allauddin Khan was a perfectionist and a strict
taskmaster, and Ali Akbar`s lessons started before dawn and often
lasted 18 hours a day. Khansahib also learned to play the tabla and the pakhawaj
from his uncle, Aftabuddin Khan, who he visited at Shibpur. During
this period, he met several prominent musicians, such as the sarodiya,
Timir Baran and flautist Pannalal Ghosh, who came to study with his
father; in later years he was joined in his lessons by his sister
Annapurna Devi, who became an accomplished player of the surbahar,
and fellow student Ravi Shankar.
Ali Akbar Khan, after years of rigorous training gave his debut
performance at a music conference in Allahabad in 1936, at the age
of 13. Three years later, he accompanied Ravi Shankar on the sarode
during the latter`s debut performance at the same conference, this
was the first of many jugalbandis between the two musicians. In 1938
he gave his first recital on All India Radio (AIR), Bombay
(accompanied on the tabla by Alla Rakha), and starting in January
1940, he gave monthly performances on AIR, Lucknow. Finally in 1944,
he left Maihar to start his professional career, becoming the
youngest Music Director for AIR, Lucknow.
In 1943, on his father`s recommendation,
Ali Akbar Khan was appointed a court
musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur. There, he taught and composed
music, besides giving recitals and was accorded the title of Ustad
by the Maharaja. When the princely states were wound down with India`s
independence in 1947, he moved to Bombay.
At the request of Yehudi Menuhin, Ali Akbar Khansahib first visited
the United States in 1955 and performed at the Museum of Modern Art
in New York. He also made the first Western LP recording of Indian
classical music and was the first to perform Indian music on US
television, sowing the seed for the wave of popularity of Indian
music in the 1960`s.
He performed in India and traveled extensively in the West.
Khansahib founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Kolkata in 1956.
Later, recognising the extraordinary interest and abilities of his
Western students, he began teaching in America in 1965. He founded
another school of the same name in Berkeley, California in 1967 and
later moved it to San Rafael, California. In 1985, he also opened a
branch of his college in Basel, Switzerland, run by his disciple Ken
Zuckerman, where he taught when on his world tours.
Khansahib had composed and recorded music for films throughout his
career. He composed extensively in India beginning with `Aandhiyan`
by Chetan Anand (1953) and went on to create music for `House
Holder` by Ivory/Merchant (their first film), `Khudita Pashan` (or
`Hungry Stone`) for which he won the `Best Musician of the Year`
award, `Devi` by Satyajit Ray and, in America, `Little Buddha` by
Bernardo Bertolucci (1993).
Beginning in 1945,
Ali Akbar Khan also started recording a series of 78 rpm
disks at the HMV studios in Bombay. For one such record he conceived
a new composition Raga Chandranandan, based on four evening ragas,
Malkauns, Chandrakauns, Nandakauns and Kaunsi Kanhada. This record
was a huge success in India and the raga found a worldwide audience.
He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1967 and Padma Vibhushan in
1989, as well as a plethora of other awards and honours. In 1997,
Khansahib received the National Endowment for the Arts` prestigious
National Heritage Fellowship, the United States` highest honour in
the traditional arts, which was presented by Mrs. Hillary Clinton at
a ceremony in the White House. This followed a MacArthur Genius
Grant in 1991. He was nominated for the Grammy awards five times
between 1970 and 1998.
Khan was based in the United States for the last four decades of his
life. On June 18, 2009, he passed away in San Francisco after a
prolonged kidney ailment. He was 87 years old.