India Instruments EN » Network » Texts » Ali Akbar Khan - Emperor of Melody

Ali Akbar Khan - Emperor of Melody

Obituary by Yogendra
(June 2009)

After a prolonged kidney ailment sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan has passed away in his home close to San Francisco on June 18th, surrounded by family, students and friends. He was 87 and had been on dialysis for the last four years. His condition had deteriorated in the last four months. But even on his deathbed he kept teaching some of his close students by singing to them - raga durga was his last lesson.

Ali Akbar Khan was born on April 14, 1922 in Shibpur, now in Bangladesh. From early childhood onwards he learnt music from his legendray father Allauddin Khan, founder of the Maihar-Gharana. He gave his first public concert in 1936, his first radio broadcast in 1938, became court musician of the maharaja of Jodhpur in 1943, made his first recordings for HMV in 1945, wrote his first film score in 1953, gave his first concerts in the USA in 1955 and founded the Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta in 1956. Countless concerts, recordings, film scores and broadcasts all over the world followed in the next decades. In 1967 Ali Akbar Khan moved to San Rafael, California, where he restarted the Ali Akbar College of Music and taught more than 10.000 students in over 40 years of continuous tireless teaching. He has received the Padma Vibhushan, the 2nd highest civilian order of India, in 1989, the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the USA in 1991, and in 1997 the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, the US' highest honour in the traditional arts. His father Alluddin Khan gave him the title Swara Samrat, emperor of melody. He was one of the most important artists in the world of Indian classical music in the 2nd half of the twentieth century. Violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin once called him the greatest musician of the world.

Ali Akbar Khan's life, work and accomplishment are far too large to be fully appreciated here. Please check the following websites for more detailed information:

- official homepage:
- Ali Akbar College of Music San Rafael:
- Ali Akbar College of Music Basel:
- recordings of Ali Akbar Khan from India Instruments:
- pictures from the funeral:

On a personal note, I would like to express my deep gratitude towards Khansahib, as his students called him. I was fortunate to be able to study with him in Europe and in California from 1987 till 2000, and he has really changed my life in many ways. Without him I would not be a performing musician today and India Instruments would not have come into existence. Thanks so much for all that you have given so generously, Khansahib!