Indian Classical Music


Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

Considered a "National Living Treasure" in India, Ali Akbar Khan is admired by both Eastern and Western musicians for his brilliant compositions and his mastery of the sarod (a beautiful, 25-stringed Indian instrument). Concert violinist Yehudi Menuhin calls Ali Akbar Khan, "An absolute genius...the greatest musician in the world," and many have considered him the "Indian Johann Sebastian Bach."

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's family traces its gharana (ancestral tradition) to Mian Tansen, a 16th century musical genius and court musician of Emperor Akbar. Ali Akbar Khan's father, the late Padma Vibhusan Acharya Dr. Allauddin Khan, was acknowledged as the greatest figure in North Indian music in this century. Born in 1922 in East Bengal (Bangladesh), Ali Akbar Khan (Khansahib) began his studies in music at the age of three. He studied vocal music from his father and drums from his uncle, Fakir Aftabuddin. His father also trained him on several other instruments, but decided finally that he must concentrate on the sarode and on vocal. For over twenty years, he trained and practiced 18 hours a day. After that, his father continued to teach Khansahib until he was over 100 years old, and left behind such a wealth of material that Khansahib feels he is still learning new things from it. Ali Akbar Khan gave his first public performance in Allahabad at age thirteen. In his early twenties, he became the court musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur. The State of Jodhpur bestowed upon him the title of "USTAD," or Master Musician. Since his father's death in 1972, Khansahib has continued his father's tradition, that of the Baba Allauddin Seni Gharana of Maihar in Central India.

At the request of Yehudi Menuhin, Ali Akbar Khan first visited the United States in 1955 and performed an unprecedented concert at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He also made the first Western LP recording of Indian Classical music, and the first television performance of Indian music, on Allistair Cooke's "Omnibus," sowing the seed for the wave of popularity of Indian music in the 1960's. Since then, he has continued to tour extensively in Asia, Africa, Europe, The Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

In 1963, Khansahib was presented with the "President of India" award. He also holds the distinguished "Padma Bushan" award from the Government of India, as well as the highest honor presented to a civilian in India - the "Padma Vibushan" - awarded to him in 1988. Khansahib was awarded the "Kalidas Sanman" in 1991, by the Madya Pradesh Academy of Music and Fine Arts, and an honorary DOCTORATE DEGREE IN ARTS from the California Institute of the Arts, in Valencia, CA. In June of 1991, Ali Akbar Khan became the first Indian musician to be awarded the most prestigious MACARTHUR FOUNDATION FELLOWSHIP, the "genius grant," in recognition of his excellent work in the field of creating, cultivating and transmitting the highly complex musical tradition of Northern India. He has received four GRAMMY AWARD nominations: in 1970 for Shree Rag, in 1983 for Misra Piloo, in 1996 for Then and Now, and recently in 1997 for Legacy. He has also received the degree of DOCTOR OF LITERATURE, honoree causa, from the Rabindra Bharati University in Calcutta. He received additional awards from Dacca University (for his international contribution to the arts and music), from Delhi University and from Shantiniketan (Tagore University). In February, 1997, he was the second recipient to receive the ASIAN PAINTS SHIROMANI AWARD - HALL OF FAME, following filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Khansahib founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta, India, in 1956. Later, recognizing the extraordinary interest and abilities of his Western students, he began teaching in America in 1965. In 1968, he founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Marin County (California), where he continues to teach 6 classes a week for 9 months of the year. There is also a branch of his college in Basel, Switzerland, run by his disciple Ken Zuckerman, where he visits every year to teach during his yearly world tour. When Ali Akbar Khan first received the title of "Ustad" as a relatively young man, his father merely laughed. But later, when the patriarch was a centenarian, he told his son one day that he was very proud of him: "I am so pleased with your work in music that I will do something which is very rare. As your Guru and father, I am giving you a title, 'SWARA SAMRAT' (Emperor of Melody)," and so, with the blessings of his father, mother and uncle, Khansahib received this highest title.

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