She carries the legacy of Ustad Abdul Kareem Khan and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the doyens of the Kirana Gharana and yet, Prabha Atre’s zeal for constant innovation and creative endeavour in treatment, design and presentation of the musical material has given her music an independent identity.
The litany of her awards just got its brightest star on Tuesday in the form of the second highest civilian award in the country, the Padma Vibhushan, which was announced to the 89-year-old from Pune.
She was earlier awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2002 and Padma Shree in 1990. She has also won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award.
Born in 1932 in Pune, Atre was known as a thinker-singer who displayed sensitivity in her rendition, be it khayal, taranaa, thumri, daadra, ghazal or even a bhajan.
Till before the pandemic-induced lockdown, she was a regular at concerts, enthralling packed halls.
A regular for the last many years at Pune’s famous classical music event, the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival, considered the top-billed event in the classical music world, it is her hallmark singing that distinguished her from other vocalists, both in the classical and light classical idioms.
“She is the tallest exponent of Kirana Gharana as on date and the most veteran flag-bearer of that gaayaki style. It brings me immense pleasure to know that she has received the highest honour at this ripe age,” Kalapini Komakali, daughter and disciple of Kumar Gandharva, and also a classical singer in her own right, told IANS.
“Besides being an accomplished performer, she has also excelled as a brilliant thinker, researcher, academician, reformer, author, composer and guru. A science and law graduate, doctorate in music, assistant producer with the All India Radio, professor and head of the department of post-graduate studies & research in music at SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai, Atre is a rare blend of skill, insight and expressive voice,” describes her profile.
She trained under music greats Hirabai Badodekar and Sureshbabu Mane.
She is the pioneering vocalist to popularise Indian art music in the West since 1969, giving full-fledged vocal concerts, as did Pandit Ravi Shankar with his sitar.
Atre is an acclaimed guru both in performance and research. She is actively involved in music related academic activities such as lec-dems, workshops & seminars and has also been teaching at foreign universities as a visiting professor. She has authored over a dozen books on music in Marathi, Hindi and English.
Her Dr Prabha Atre Foundation aims to promote the cause of Indian classical music and performing arts while her Swaramayee Gurukul at Pune strives to bridge the prevailing gap between the academic institutions and the traditional guru-shishya paramparaa by nurturing talented students into professionals aspiring to take up music as a career.
Her long list of awards includes Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Shashtreeya Sangeet Jeevan Gaurav Puraskar by Maharashtra government; Kalidas Samman award by Madhya Pradesh government; Tanariri Sangeet Samman award by Gujarat government; Mallikarjun Mansur Samman by Karnataka government in recognition of her exceptional creativity, highest artistic excellence, outstanding achievement and distinguished life time devotion to music.
Atre has received the ‘Indo-American Fellowship’ for studying research materials used in Ethnomusicology at the University of California, USA.
Unlike many other classical music exponents, she has not restricted herself to music but is alive to the happenings around.
In 2011, when the Anna Andolan was at its peak, she walked all the way from Bandra to Juhu in Mumbai to support the then Mumbai’s Team Anna March in August that year.
“Gave satisfaction for I could contribute a drop to the ocean of today’s growing movement,” she had tweeted.