Khansahib, Ali Akbar Khan, was described as a “musician’s musician.” He was a master of the sarod, a fretless, 25-stringed instrument in the Maihar Gharana, and was renowned for his amazing creativity and knowledge.
Childhood and Music
Ali Akbar Khan was born to renowned musician and instructor Allauddin Khan and Madina Begum in the village of Shibpur, Brahmanbaria, in present-day Bangladesh. His family returned to Maihar shortly after his birth, where his father served as the Maharaja of Jodphur’s chief court musician. At the age of three, he began studying vocal music with his father. In his words, “After ten years of practice, you may begin to please yourself; after twenty years, you may become a performer and please the audience; after thirty years, you may even please your guru; but, you must train for many more years before becoming a great artist, then you may even please God.”
Career in Music
Utsad Ali Akbar Khan performed his first public performance on the sarod in 1936, at the age of thirteen, during a music convention in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India. He made his first vocal recital on All India Radio in Bombay in 1938, backed by the legendary Ustad Alla Rakha on tabla.
By January 1940, he was performing on AIR, Lucknow, on a monthly basis. Khansahib became the youngest Music Director for AIR, Lucknow, in 1944, and was in charge of solo performances and radio orchestra composition.
Accolades and Demise
Khan received the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan, in 1967 and 1989, respectively. In 1991, he became the first Indian musician ever to get a MacArthur Fellowship, dubbed the “genius grant.”
Khan spent the last four decades of his life in America. He toured frequently until ill health prevented him from doing so. He’d been on dialysis since 2004. He died at his house in San Anselmo, California, of kidney failure.