Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is generally acknowledged to be the foremost living vocalist of Hindustani classical music. Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi was born on February 14, 1922, in the village of Gadag, in the Dharwad district of Karnataka in South India. Born to a conservative school-master, he was drawn to music from a young age, but his father insisted that he get a sound education in a respectable profession like medicine or engineering.

In 1933 when he was 11 years old, in order to further his musical education, he decided to run away; having heard that Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur in North India were the best places to learn classical music, his first destination was Gwalior. After he had spent a few years in Gwalior, Lucknow, and Rampur, his father relented and had him brought back, to begin the major part of his musical education in the nearby town of Kundgol, under Savai Gandharva, also known as Rambhau Kundgolkar.

Savai Gandharva was the chief disciple of Abdul Karim Khan, who along with his cousin Abdul Waheed Khan was the founder of the Kirana gharana school of Hindustani music. Bhimsen Joshi stayed with Savai Gandharva between 1936 and 1940, absorbing as much as possible. At the end of that period, he parted ways with his guru and set out on his own with a strict regimen of sixteen hours (!) of riyaz (practice) per day.

Bhimsen Joshi gave his first concert when he was 19. At age 20 he made his first recording, a few light classical songs in Kannada and Hindi, and a few years later made his first classical recording. Within a few years of this he had become known as 'the flying musician of India', because he often took two flights a day to get to all his concerts.

Bhimsen Joshi has received numerous awards for his singing, notably the Padma Shree in 1972, the Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1976, and the Padma Bhushan in 1985. He also earned his first platinum disc in 1986.

While Bhimsen Joshi is, like all modern Hindustani classical vocalists, a khyal singer, he also spent a year in Lucknow in the 1940s learning from the great thumri masters of the time. In fact, he has said that singing a thumri well is much harder than performing a khyal.

If you would like to listen to Bhimsen Joshi, there are two series I would recommend: the first is Siddhi, which consists of some of his best concerts and recordings, and the second is the "Bhimsen Joshi 75 Years" series, also known as the "Concert Recordings of the 1960's" series. The first volume, particularly, contains an amazing recording of Multani.


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