top of page

"Defining Moments: Legendary Turning Points in the Lives of Iconic Musicians"


The turning point in a musician's life often hinges on a successful performance in a concert. In modern times, extraordinary record sales can also catapult an artist to celebrity status. Today, winning TV shows like "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa" and "Indian Idol" can make someone famous overnight. For traditional artists, pivotal moments often come during concerts held for Friday night gatherings (Jummā), music competitions (dangal) at royal courts during Dussehra, or at music conferences and private mehfils. While most artists experience gradual growth, a few shine like supernovas in the concert arena. Let's explore the success stories of some iconic artists, starting with Miyan Tansen, the most celebrated figure in North Indian classical music.

Tansen (1493-1589)

Ramtanu Pandey, better known as Tansen, hailed from Behat, a village near Gwalior. During his youth, Mansingh Tomar, a great patron of contemporary art music, ruled Gwalior. The king established a music school that trained dhrupad music under the guidance of great Nayaks like Baiju, Bakhshu, and Dhondhu. Young Ramtanu, a child prodigy, received initial training from his father, Makarand Pandey, and later from Nayak Bakhshu.

Tansen's ability to render music was unparalleled, often leaving audiences in a state of rhapsody. His mastery of lyrics, finesse in presenting ragas, and dramatic breath control earned him widespread acclaim. Once, King Vikram Singh Tomar was so pleased with Tansen's recital that he bestowed upon him the title "Tansen," meaning the Lion of Tans. Tansen's fame spread far and wide, eventually leading him to join the Mughal court of Akbar as one of the nine gems, the Navaratna.

Ahmedjan Thirakwa (1874/1892-1976)

Ahmedjan Thirakwa, a tabla wizard, began his musical journey with vocal music and sarangi, but his heart was drawn to the tabla. He trained under the legendary Ustad Munir Khan and soon gained recognition for his extraordinary skill. His fingers moved on the drum as if they were dancing, earning him the nickname "Thirakwa."

Thirakwa's most successful debut took place at the age of 16 in Bombay. His popularity soared when he became a constant performer with the theatrical company of the legendary Bal Gandharva of Maharashtra.

Faiyaz Khan (1880-1950)

At 26, Ustad Faiyaz Khan, a singer from Agra, gave a brilliant recital before the Maharaja of Mysore, earning him a gold medal and marking his first public recognition. He later became the court musician at the Mysore and Baroda courts. Known as the "Mehfil ka Badshah" (Emperor of Concerts), Faiyaz Khan's dedication to his craft was evident in his rigorous practice regime.

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur (1897-1967)

Pandit Omkarnath Thakur's turning point came during the famous Harivallabh Mela music conference in 1918. His performances alongside Bhaskar Bua Bakhale left the audience in awe, leading to a shower of coins and ornaments as a mark of appreciation. Thakur's humility and dedication earned him the title of the most recognized Hindu star of North Indian classical music.

Uday Shankar (1900-1977)

Uday Shankar, the elder brother of Pandit Ravi Shankar, was a world-famous modern Indian dancer. Despite facing numerous hardships, Shankar's unique blend of Indian folk dances, Kathak, Kathakali, Bharat Natyam, and elements of Seraikela Chhau brought him international acclaim. His collaboration with Anna Pavlova and his innovative dance style captivated audiences worldwide.

Siddheshwari Devi (1903-1977)

Siddheshwari Devi, a doyen of thumri and tappa from Banaras, gained fame performing at small events and mujras. Her turning point came when she was invited to sing at a Kolkata conference, where her mesmerizing recital won her widespread acclaim and a medal in her name. This event marked the beginning of her illustrious career.

Bismillah Khan (1908-2006)

Bharat Ratna Bismillah Khan learned shehnai from his maternal uncle, Ustad Ali Bakhsh, starting at a young age. His talent shone brightly at a 1926 music conference in Allahabad, where his enchanting recital won numerous medals and monetary awards. His fame as a shehnai maestro spread rapidly, leading to a successful career filled with prestigious performances.

Begum Akhtar (1914-1974)

Begum Akhtar, instinctively drawn to music from childhood, faced initial resistance from her family. Her turning point came when she recorded her music for commercial purposes, despite disapproval from her mother and Ustad. Her first disc's tremendous success led to many more recordings and a flourishing career as a ghazal, thumri, and dadra singer.

Bhimsen Joshi (1922-2011)

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, trained by Sawai Gandharva, dazzled audiences with his first major public performance at his teacher's 60th birth anniversary celebration in 1946. This performance marked the beginning of his meteoric rise as the most famous singer of the Kirana gharana.

Kumar Gandharva (1924-1992)

A child prodigy, Kumar Gandharva's extraordinary talent earned him the title "Young Celestial of Music" at age 7. His recital at the 1935 Allahabad conference garnered widespread acclaim, leading to countless invitations for concerts. His unique style and creative genius solidified his place as a remarkable vocalist in Indian classical music.

Vilayat Khan (1924-2004)

Young Vilayat Khan's performance at the 1943 Vikramaditya Conference in Bombay left audiences, including prominent musicians, in awe. His skillful sitar playing earned him immediate recognition and numerous recording opportunities, establishing him as one of India's most sought-after sitar maestros.

Nikhil Banerjee (1931-1986)

Nikhil Banerjee, a sitar student of Ustad Allauddin Khan and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, captivated audiences at the Tansen Sangeet Sammelan at age 21. His artistic rendition marked the beginning of his journey as a new star of sitar music.

Parveen Sultana (b. 1945)

Parveen Sultana's turning point came during a private recital at Amar Mishra's residence in 1965. Her stunning performance, especially her range covering four octaves, impressed everyone present. This event led to numerous invitations and established her as a prominent figure in Hindustani classical music.


These stories of iconic musicians highlight how pivotal moments and successful performances can transform their careers. Each artist's journey is unique, marked by talent, dedication, and the ability to captivate audiences, leaving an indelible mark on the world of music.

1 view0 comments


bottom of page