Ustad Ali Akbar Khan was born on 14th April, 1922 in Shivpur, a village in Bengal. Being born in a house of musicians, he was exposed to music at a very early age. His father, Ustad Allauddin Khan (of Meher) started training him in his early childhood. His father would keep him locked for around 6 hours every day to ensure that he did his daily riyaaz. To escape from such severe and controlled training, at the age of 16, Ustadji scaled down from the second floor of his residence with the help of a rope and ran away. When he reached the station, all he had was a Sarod, a wristwatch and two rupees in his pocket, of which one rupee was spent on the train. As he had no ticket, the ticket collector made him get off before Khandwa station. He had to walk all the way to Khandwa from there. He tried to earn some money so that he could reach Mumbai, but he failed to so. One day while wandering at the station, he met a Bengali gentleman who helped him. After listening to his travail, he fed Ustadji well and promised to organize two Sarod concerts for him. With money earned from the concerts, Ustadji travelled to Mumbai. Impressed with his Sarod vaadan, Bukhari Saheb, the Director of Akaashvani, offered him employment there. When his Sarod vaadan was aired on Akaashvani six days later, the Maharaja of Meher heard it. Ali Akbar’s father, was an exponent of music at the Maharaja’s court. Ustadji’s father got news of his son from the Maharaja. He immediately came to Mumbai and took Ustaadji back home and promised to never impose or force any riyaaz on him thereafter.
At the age of 14, for the first time Ali Akbarji participated in the Allahabad Sangeet Samellan. He was associated with the famous Sitar player, Pt. Ravi Shankar. Whenever the duo played together, they left the audience enthralled. He was the first Indian artist to perform on American Television. He gave numerous concerts in India as well as America, France, United Kingdom and Afghanistan. His performances were always clear and crisp, melodious, with a superior hold on meend, replete with laykaari, depth in swar vistaar and filled with subtle nuances.
Mentionable among his disciples are Shri Nikhil Banerjee (Sitar),Sharanrani (Sarod) and Biren Banerjee. His favourite ragas were ‘Chandranandan, Jogia, Kalingada, Pahadi, Jhinjhoti, Hemant, Gaurimanjiri’. Ustad Ali Akbar Khanji passed away on 19th June 2009.
1991: MacArthur Fellowship
1997: ‘National Heritage Fellowship’– a prestigious American award for Arts.