His family were court musicians who used to play in Naqqar Khana (an orchestra pit in Mughal period) in Bhojpur, Bihar. His name also bears a unique story behind it: On his birth, his grandfather thanking God, uttered "Bismillah" and the name Bismillah stuck!
The Shehnai maestro continued to entertain the entire world until he took he died on August 21, 2006, at the age of 90.
"Though he started playing in public at the age of 14, Khan's performance at the All India Music Conference in Kolkata in 1937 became a defining moment in his career".
Bismillah Khan's shehnai is iconic for India in more ways than one.
Khan saheb's music has found its way, penetrating barriers of religion, caste and class, to the hearts of millions of our people, uniting them in a shared ecstasy.... Other than Bharat Ratna, he is awarded with Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi. Such was his devotion to his art and music that he referred to his shehnai as "begum" after the death of his wife. India's declaration of independence in 1947 and the creation of the Indian republic in 1950 were heralded by Ustad Bismillah Khan's shehnai. He acted in Satyajit Ray's much acclaimed Jalsaghar and played the shehnai in Goonj Uthi Shehnai, a 1959 film directed by Vijay Bhatt. National Award winning director Goutam Ghose directed a documentary on his life titled Sang-e-Meel Se Mulaqat.
Ustad Bismillah Khan's last wish, to be able to perform at the India Gate as a tribute to the martyrs, remained unfulfilled after he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. Today, we are honouring the iconic Ustad Bismillah on his 102nd birthday.
When he passed away, he was buried with Shehnai.