Her mother used to fall ill frequently. Someone suggested her father to engage her mother in an instrument like Harmonium, so that her mind is diverted and she gets some relief from pain. Her father arranged for a Harmonium teacher. But in six to seven days, her mother’s patience gave up. She said she does not want to learn Harmonium. The father was in a dilemma as to what to say to the teacher and how to send him back him now. Then he thought of giving him the task of teaching his eight year old daughter. The daughter whose learning began at this note, is today known as Prabha Atre. The super talented classical singer and music scholar of the Kirana Gharana, Padma Bhushan Shrimati Prabha Atre.
Prabha Atre was born on 13th September 1932 in Pune. There was no influence of music in her family at all. Her father was the headmaster of a school the mother, a teacher there. Prabha Atre used to study in this very school. Being the daughter of the headmaster, there was immense pressure on her to participate in every cultural event of the school. There were many musical programmes in these events. This is how Prabha started singing occasionally, but she was hardly serious about it. But like it is said, there are magical powers in encouragement and appreciation. Prabha was highly appreciated when she sang in school, on radio or in the music competitions. This is what got her excited and she started riaz (or practising musical notes) gradually. Once her father’s friend heard her riaz, he said to the father that she has a very melodious voice and that he should send her to an intelligent teacher. Coincidentally, the same friend was a good of Suresh Babu Mane, a siger of the Kirana Gharana. Suresh Babu Mane was the elder brother of Heerabai Barodkar. Prabha went to Suresh Babu Mane. Her heard her singing and agreed to teach her.
Prabha says that she learnt Kirana Gharana’s music from Suresh Bhai Mane for about six years. He taught her only Raag Yaman for the first one year. Through Raag Yaman, he taught her all the tones of classical music. How a note is to be applied, how to advance on it, how to add emotions to it. Prabha says that the foundation became so strong with Raag Yaman that in the next one year, six Raags were ready. Her first big performance happened at the ten day long Ganesh festival in Maharashtra. Well known artists performed at the pandals of the Ganesh Mandal and new artists also got a chance. Once it started at the auspicious festival of Lord Ganesh, she never looked back. One of her records, in which she sang Raag Maru Bihag, kawali and Mishr Khamaj, became really popular.
Prabha Atre is a law graduate. She had also studied science, but she could not develop interest to proceed in any of these. According to her, to dissect a frog or cockroach or to fight a legal battle to save an accused, was of least interest to her. Prabha was looking for a job and in the year 1960, a vacancy for a producer in the All India Radio was out. She got selected there. Prabha Atre liked to listen to every kind of music. The advantage she got from working in radio was that she got to listen to western music, Karnatak music, film songs, ghazals- everything!
Prabha Atre was highly inspired by Ustad Amir Khan of the Indore Gharana. This also happened at the time she was working with AIR. At the time Prabha was working with AIR, she listened a lot to Amir Khan’s songs. Also, she listened a lot to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb, the effect of which can be seen on her Thumri singing even today.
Prabha Atre is not only an Indian classical singer, but also a big academician in the world of music. She has also written many books on the basis of her experiences and research. She had done her Ph.D in sargam or gamut. The choice of this subject for PhD was also a result of Ustad Amir Khan’s influence on her, because she really liked gamuts sung by him. Prabha also liked the gamut style of Karnatak music. Prabha left radio and joined the SNDT university in Pune as a teacher. Experimental Prabha brought many big changes in the syllabus there. She included all forms of music in the syllabus like the folk music, Karnatak music, western music and world music.
Today, at the age of 82, Prabha is still singing. People call her Prabha tai with love. Prabha ji’s shining white hair tells us that she is old now, but her voice still has the same youth. Listening to her is still so refreshing! The notes still have the same finesse. She still sings with the same perfection and honesty. May Prabha ji always mesmerize all music lovers with her magical voice.