Bismillah Khan was named Qamaruddin to sound like his elder brother’s name Shamsuddin. However, when his grandfather Rasool Baksh Khan saw him as a baby he uttered the word “Bismillah” and hence he came to be known as Bismillah Khan. His father used to be a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon. Despite the fame that he achieved, Bismillah Khan always remained where his roots were. He never accumulated wealth and other materialistic possessions and lived in humble surroundings in the holy city of Benares. Such was his love for his city that he declined an offer for permanent Visa for settling in US.
His teacher and mentor was his uncle Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a renowned shehnai player. Bismillah Khan religiously practiced the shehnai and attained perfection in a very short time. He fully takes the credit for making the shehnai one of the most famous classical music instruments. His concert in All India Music Conference (1937) in Calcutta brought shehnai into limelight and was hugely appreciated by music lovers. He monopolized shehnai recital in the post independence era and kept the legacy of classical music alive with his recitals. He can be truly called a pure artist who always believed that music will survive even if the world perishes. He believed in Hindu-Muslim unity and spread the message of brotherhood through his music. He always announced that music has no caste.
Bismillah Khan had the rare honor of playing his shehnai on the eve of India’s independence in the year 1947. He performed at the Red Fort in Delhi and since that year he has always played on 15th August right after the Prime Minister gave his speech. Bismillah Khan has played in many countries and has a huge fan following. He has performed in Afghanistan, USA, Canada, Bangladesh, Europe, Iran, Iraq, West Africa, Japan and Hong Kong. He shared a special bond with his shehnai and called it “Begum” after his wife died. On 21st August 2006, at the age of 90, Bismillah Khan breathed his last after having a cardiac arrest. His shehnai was buried with him in his grave.