Ali Akbar Khan Biography

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, 14 April 1922, Shivpur, East Bengal (Bangladesh since 1971). Ali Akbar Khan is acknowledged throughout the continent of his birth as the master of the sarod, an elongated steel lute. He follows in the tradition established by his father and teacher, Allauddin Khan, who himself did much to popularise the instrument. His sister, Annapurna Devi, also studied music with his father, and later married another of his students, Ravi Shankar. Together with Shankar, Ali Akbar performed celebrated duets (or jugalbandis in the classical Hindustan tradition), which established their reputation. Both survived the days when Hindustani music was subject to court patronage to a modern age where each was free to perform in their own right. Ali Akbar worked at the court of Maharajah Hanumantha Singh, before finding his first radio commissions at a station in Rajasthan. However, it took the intervention of Yehudi Menuhin to bring him to foreign shores. Enraptured by Hindustan (Northern Indian) music and culture, the violinist visited Delhi in 1955 and intended to bring Shankar back to America with him. When Shankar was reluctant, Ali Akbar took his place. Thus he played the first American concert of Hindustan music in New York, also appearing on a television programme, Omnibus, and recording with Shirish Gor (tanpura) and Chatur Lal (tabla). Piloo, Music Of India - Morning And Evening Ragas, was the world’s first album of Indian classical music.

On its 30th anniversary it was re-released on AMMP Records as part of a double CD collection, the second CD comprising a 1994 concert performance at the Palace Of Fine Arts in San Francisco. By 1960 Ali Akbar’s music had accompanied several ‘Bollywood’ films, including Satyajit Ray’s Devi, Chetan Anand’s Aandhiyan and Ham Safar, Dilip Nag’s Nupur and Necklace, and he also recorded with arguably India’s most popular singer, Asha Bhosle. He reunited with Shankar to appear at the August 1971 Concerts For Bangladesh. He had already done much for his country’s evolution, including the founding of a college of Indian classical music (in 1967 a similar enterprise was started in California, and another in Switzerland in 1985). He reunited with Bhosle for 1996’s Legacy, with the meeting between two of India’s greatest musical talents generating the expected praise. Though never sharing the international fame afforded his brother-in-law Shankar, Ali Akbar is judged by many to be the greatest living exponent not only of his instrument, but of classical Indian music in its entirety.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.