Bhimsen Gururaj Joshi , (4 February 1922 – 24 January 2011) was an Indian vocalist in the Hindustani classical tradition. He is known for the khayal form of singing, as well as for his popular renditions of devotional music.
As a child, Bhimsen was fascinated with music and musical instruments like the Harmonium and Tanpura and would often follow processions accompanied by music bands. This exercise often tired him and he would curl up somewhere and sleep, forcing his parents to go to the police after efforts to trace him failed. Fed up, his father Gururajacharya Joshi come up with the solution, writing "Joshi mastarara maga" (son of teacher Joshi) on Bhimsen's shirts. This worked and those who found the boy sleeping would safely deposit him back to his house.
His first music teacher was Agasara Channappa of Kurtakoti, who had trained with the veteran singer Inayat Khan. After learning ragas Bhairav and Bhimpalasi . The one and only unique vigorous style of rendering he developed along with advanced trainings by other teachers is attributed to the basic training he received from Channappa. Bhimsen Joshi next went to Pandit Shyamacharya Joshi, who hailed from Bagalkot and was a priest and classical singer. Pandit Shyamacharya taught him to sing as well as play the harmonium. Shree Shamacharya Joshi was a descendant of Great Haridasa Shree Mahipati Dasaru. As revealed by Shree Shamacharya Joshi himself when he was live, it was a turning point in Bhimsen Joshi's life that Shree Shyamacharya Joshi went to Bombay for recording his songs by HMV where Shree Bhimsen Joshi also accompanied him and due to ill health Shree Shayamacharya Joshi returned to Bagalkot after recording few songs and asked Shree Bhimsen Joshi to render rest of the songs which Shree Bhimsen Joshi did and this proved to be a major breakthrough for Bhimsen Joshi in the initial stage of his career
Joshi heard a recording of Abdul Karim Khan's Thumri "Piya Bin Nahi Aavat Chain" in Raga Jhinjhoti when he was a child, which inspired him to become a musician. During this time, he also heard Pandit Sawai Gandharva at a performance in Kundgol. In 1933, the 11-year-old Joshi left Dharwad for Bijapur to find a master and learn music. With the help of money lent by his co-passengers in the train, Bhimsen reached Dharwad first and later went to Pune. Later he moved to Gwalior and got into Madhava Music School, a school run by Maharajas of Gwalior, with the help of famous sarod player Hafiz Ali Khan. He travelled for three years around North India, including in Delhi, Kolkata, Gwalior, Lucknow and Rampur, trying to find a good guru. Eventually, his father succeeded in tracking him down in Jalandar and brought young Bhimsen back home.
In 1936, Sawai Gandharva, a native of Dharwad, agreed to be his guru. Joshi stayed at his house in the guru-shishya (teacher-student) tradition. Joshi continued his training with Sawai Gandharva till 1940.
Joshi first performed live in 1941 at the age 19. His debut album, containing a few devotional songs in Marathi and Hindi, was released by HMV the next year in 1942. Later Joshi moved to Mumbai in 1943 and worked as a radio artist. His performance at a concert in 1946 to celebrate his guru Sawai Gandharva's 60th birthday won him accolades both from the audience and his guru.
Joshi's performances have been acknowledged by music critics such as S. N. Chandrashekhar of the Deccan Herald to be marked by spontaneity, accurate notes, dizzyingly-paced taans which make use of his exceptional voice training, and a mastery over rhythm. The Hindu, in an article written after he was awarded the Bharat Ratna, said: Bhimsen Joshi was ever the wanderer, engendering brilliant phrases and tans more intuitively than through deliberation. Joshi occasionally employed the use of sargam and tihaais, and often sang traditional compositions of the Kirana gharana. His music often injected surprising and sudden turns of phrase, for example through the unexpected use of boltaans. Over the years, his repertoire tended to favour a relatively small number of complex and serious ragas; however, he remained one of the most prolific exponents of Hindustani classical music. Some of Joshi's more popular ragas include Shuddha Kalyan, Miyan Ki Todi, Puriya Dhanashri, Multani, Bhimpalasi, Darbari, and Ramkali. He was a purist who has not dabbled in experimental forms of music, except for a series of Jugalbandi recordings with the Carnatic singer M. Balamuralikrishna.
Joshi's singing has been influenced by many musicians, including Smt. Kesarbai Kerkar, Begum Akhtar and Ustad Amir Khan. Joshi assimilated into his own singing various elements that he liked in different musical styles and Gharanas.
Bhimsen Joshi was known for his powerful voice, amazing breath control, fine musical sensibility and unwavering grasp of the fundamentals, representing a subtle fusion of intelligence and passion that imparted life and excitement to his music. A classicist by training, and temperament, Bhimsen Joshi was renowned for having evolved an approach that sought to achieve a balance between what may be termed as "traditional values and mass-culture tastes" and as such he went on to have supposedly the largest commercially recorded repertoire in Hindustani vocal music. Pt. Joshi's iconic status in the music world has earned him a whole generation of suni shagirds who by merely listening to him have picked up his style and not through any formal tutelage. His greatest endeavour in perpetuating his legacy could be the Sawai Gandharva Festival held at Pune annually since the year 1953 which seeks to promote a certain music culture.
In 1998, he was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, the highest honour conferred by Sangeet Natak Akademi, India's National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama. Subsequently, he received the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, in 2008.