Ustad Qamruddin ‘Bismillah’ Khan is the top Indian musician most households in India have heard off. Born on March 21, 1916 Bismillah Khan took his last breaths on August 21, 2006.
Often referred to by the title Ustad, was an Indian musician credited with popularizing the shehnai. While the shehnai had long held importance as a folk instrument played primarily in traditional ceremonies, Khan is credited with elevating its status and bringing it to the concert stage.
Khan was awarded India’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, in 2001. With this, he became the third classical musician after M. S. Subbalakshmi and Ravi Shankar to be awarded Bharat Ratna.
Ustad was responsible for making the shehnai a famous classical instrument. He brought the Shehnai to the center stage of Indian music with his concert in Calcutta, in All India Music Conference. He was known to be so devoted to his art form that he referred to shehnai as his begum (wife in Urdu) after his wife died.
Khan had the rare distinction of performing at Delhi’s Red Fort on the eve of India’s Independence in 1947.
He further went on to perform raga Kafi from the Red Fort on the eve of India’s first Republic Day ceremony, on 26 January 1950. His recital had become a cultural part of India’s Independence Day celebrations, telecast on Doordarshan every year on 15 August.
After the prime minister’s speech from Lal Qila in Old Delhi, Doordarshan would broadcast a live performance by the shehnai maestro. This tradition dated from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru
Bismillah Khan had various top honours to his name, such as Fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi (1994), Tahar Mausique from Republic of Iran (1992), Padma Vibhushan (1980), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Shri (1961), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Tansen Award by Govt. of Madhya Pradesh.