Ustad Bismillah Khan
Ustad Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro, and possibly the most popular Hindustani classical musician of the 20th century, breathed his last at the age of 91 in Varanasi at 2.20 am on August 21. In his death, the nation mourns the fading away of the musical magic that heralded the dawn of Independence at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947, and regaled free India for six decades.
Bismillah Khan was one of the chief architects of India's post-Independence musicscape. He elevated the shehnai, an ancient ceremonial instrument, to the status of a concert instrument. Through the 1960's and 70's, his formidable musicianship, along with that of instrumentalists like Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Ustad Vilayat Khan, enabled instrumental music to overtake vocal music in terms of stature and popularity. Bismillah Khan, however, achieved much greater popularity than other instrumentalists of his generation because he straddled the worlds of classical, folk and popular music with equal ease and distinction.
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