Born on 18th July 1927 in Jaipur in the village of Rajasthan, Mehdi Hassan had a background of music-rich heritage and was a famous classical icon in the subcontinent. His family was the epitome of phenomenal musicians and he was another branch in the musical tree which taught others the serene art of music and also left its roots for many years to come.
From a tender age of eight, Mehdi Hassan, or Khan Sahib (as he was respectfully called), began his musical training and grooming under the expert supervision of his father and uncle, Ustad Azeem Khan and Ustad Ismail Khan respectively. They were his instructors in classical music and voice rendition within the framework of classical forms like Thumri, Dhrupad, Dadra, and Khayal. His childhood was not all rosy as his family was subjected to severe financial crises during the time of partition when they migrated to Pakistan. Mehdi Hassan was only 20 years old, and he took odd jobs to help make ends meet. But despite the circumstances, his passion never withered and he kept up the routine practice (Riyaaz) on regular basis.
A new avenue opened up for the young Mehdi when he was 25 years old. He was given the chance to sing on Radio Pakistan and his voice captured the attention of the leading musical fraternity of that time. In addition, Mehdi Hassan also had a blaze for Urdu poetry and he began to experiment by singing ghazals. The influential figures for him then were Z.A Bukhari and Rafiq Anwar, who were the broadcasters on Radio Pakistan and also gave him a platform to display his mastery on ghazals. He sang ghazals of renowned urdu poets and, like a wildfire, his unique talent and innovative style gained popularity. He was greatly appreciated by masses.
The years of 60s and 70s were the booming years for Mehdi Hassan. His voice and talent were unmatchable throughout the domains of South Asian music and he became the playback singer for the Pakistani films. He was rightly named the King of Ghazals, due to his unsurpassable vocal range and mastery over the most difficult of verses. His first song was ‘Jis ne mere dil ko dard diya’ in film Susral in 1962. He had a long period of continued successes and appreciation of over five decades and this put him right at home along with Madam Noor Jehan and Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. For many years, Mehdi Hassan kept alive the intricate art of ghazal in the country. The greatest of the singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Jagjit Singh, and Talat Aziz paid him tributes and this was the vivid proof of his ultimate greatness.
Mehdi Hassan was the recipient of a number of awards namely the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, Pride of Performance, and the Hilal-i-Imtiaz. Moreover, he was also bestowed with awards from across the border and across the globe. In 1979 in Julandhar, India, he was presented with the Saigal Award and the Gorkha Dakshan Bahu Award in Nepal in 1983.
The “Shahenshah-e-Ghazal” fell severely ill in late 80s and his health did not allow him to remain as much a part of the music industry as he wanted. His last work was a duet with Lata Mangeshkar in a song ‘Tera Milana’ for the film ‘Sarhadein’ in October 2010. Mehdi Hassan died on 13 June 2012 in a private hospital in Karachi. He was truly a legend, an unmatched one at that!