Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan was one of the most popular vocalists of India and belonged to the Patiala gharana. He was born on 4th April 1901, Kasur, West Punjab. Music ran in his family for five generations. His father Ustad Ali Baksh Kasurwale and uncle Ustad Kale Khan were trained by Ustad Fateh Ali Khan of Patiala, of the famous Ali Baksh-Fateh Ali vocal duo. They were also known as ‘Alia-Fattu’ or ‘Karnal-Jarnal’ (Colonel-General) and were the founders of the Patiala gharana and pupils of Miya Tanras Khan (of Delhi gharana).
Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan learnt mainly from Ustad Kale Khan for ten years. After Ustad Kale Khan’s death, he learnt from his own father Ustad Ali Baksh Kasurwale and from Ustad Ashiq Ali Khan, son of Ustad Fateh Ali.
Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali was a Sarangi player before he became a full-fledged vocalist. When Ustad Kale Khan died, a musician remarked that “music was dead with Kale Khan”. This put young Ghulam Ali on his mettle. For the next five years he practiced rigorously. Ghulam Ali was gifted with all major attributes of a great musician: musical lineage, rigorous talim (teaching), high artistic sensibility, phenomenal voice range and astounding virtuosity.
At the age of 20, he became the Sarangi accompanist to the eminent lady singer Anwari Jan. Later he came to Bombay and continued as an accompanist but never discontinued practicing vocal music. He gave his first vocal recital in 1919 at a music festival in Lahore. In 1940 he gave his first performance at Calcutta at the All Bengal Music conference and gained enviable fame. During 1943-44 he toured India and participated in many music sammelans in Delhi, Hyderbad, Allahabad, Surat, Ahmedabad, Pune, Kolhapur, Belgaum and Bombay. His first performance in Bombay as a vocalist was at the historic Vikramaditya Music Conference (1944), where he won the acclaim of seniors Ustads Alladiya Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Allauddin Khan and Smt. Kesarbai Kerkar. He returned to Lahore in 1946.
After the partition of India, he was invited by the ruler of Afghanistan to his durbar, but he declined. He continued to travel between India and Pakistan till the late 1950’s. In 1961 he had a paralytic attack and was bedridden for two years. With sheer will power he recovered and resumed performing from 1963 till his last days. He died on 23rd April, 1968 in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh.
Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan was gifted with a charismatic voice exuding mellifluence over three octaves, moving easily in any tempo with beautiful fluctuations of volume. His raga elaborations were noted for their attractive alaaps, sequenced by swift and continous sargams and taans. He was vitally influenced by the fast-moving Thappa form and the highly ornamented Punjabi style of expression, with abundant use of murkis and khatjas. He was renowned for his full three octave sapat taans. His utterance of words was melodiously clear when compared to other singers. He had a good knowledge of Kashmiri, Sindhi and Punjabi folk music.
His numerous compositions under the pen-name `Sabarang’ (literally meaning ‘all colours’) are famous till today. He rendered with equal ease a Khayal, Thumri, Dadra, Bhajan, folk songs or even a Sadra or Dhrupad. His was an ideal blend of appeal and technique. He was one of those rare musicians whose music appealed to both seasoned music connoisseurs and the layman. He introduced the swarmandal as an attractive drone back drop to his recitals. Thereafer, many vocalists even of other gharanas began to use the swarmandal. For the rare perfection and popularity that he brought to the Punjab Ang-Thumri, he has rightly been called ‘The king of light classical music’. He has left behind a legacy in the form of numerous disc-records and AIR recordings.
Awards: He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan Award (1961) and the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1962).
Disciples: He trained noted vocalists like his son Ustad Munnawar Ali Khan, (Smt) Meera Banerjee, Prasun Banerjee, Tulsidas Sharma, Sandhya Mukherjee and Jagdish Prasad.