Ali Akbar Khan, Ambassador Of Indian Classical Music To The U.S., Dies The man who helped introduce Indian classical music to the United States died Thursday at his home in Northern California. Ali Akbar Khan was 87. He played the sarod, a stringed, lutelike instrument that is part of the musical tradition in Hindustan.
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Khan, 87, Brought Indian Classical Music To U.S.

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Khan, 87, Brought Indian Classical Music To U.S.

Khan, 87, Brought Indian Classical Music To U.S.

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GUY RAZ, host:

We take a few moments now to remember Ali Akbar Khan. The musical giant who introduced Indian classical sounds to the West has died at his Northern California home at age 87. Khan was nominated for five Grammys and recorded more than 95 albums.

NPR's Neda Ulaby has this remembrance.

NEDA ULABY: Ali Akbar Khan was born into a legendary North Indian family who served as royal court musicians, starting at least in the 16th century. Khan began studying music with his father at the age of three.

Mr. ALI AKBAR KHAN: If you make one mistake then he become a dangerous man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: Khan's father, Allauddin Khan, remains a towering figure in Indian classical music. He composed over 4,000 pieces and played 200 instruments. His son was expected to carry on as a cultural repository, and he was expected to practice all day, every day.

Mr. KHAN: Eighteen hours a day for 20 years, and sometime my father taught me for 15 hours a day.

ULABY: Young Ali Akbar Khan was often beaten for lacking dedication. But when he made his professional debut at age 13 in 1935, he was immediately hailed as a virtuoso of the steel string lute-like instrument, the sarod.

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: Indian classical music was virtually unknown in the West; that was until violinist Yehudi Menuhin heard Khan give a recital in Delhi. Enchanted, he invited Khan to visit the United States. The music's shimmering serenity was embraced by the counterculture. And although he toured extensively, Khan was serious about teaching. He opened music colleges in Calcutta, California and Switzerland, and taught until just two weeks before his death.

You can hear, in this tape recorded 10 years ago, the pleasure he took in it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KHAN: (Singing in foreign language).

ULABY: Ali Akbar Khan was taught by his father that music should be kept inside the family, pure and undefiled. But Khan welcomed anyone in his music school no matter their background. He said as he aged, he found new energy. And he said his father, even in death, remained a powerful presence.

Mr. KHAN: Still in my dreams he comes and teach me music, twice or thrice a month. Some lessons that I forget and then he get angry. And then, after few months, he comes back. If he's happy, then he comes every month.

ULABY: Khan said his father told him that the subtleties and depths of Indian classical music could not be taught in one lifetime. It would take 10 lives or 500 years to understand it all.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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