The traditional music of Northern India was preserved and promoted by Pakistan-born vocalist and teacher Pandit Faquir Pran Nath. Faithful to the authentic sounds of traditional ragas, Nath was a major influence on Indian singers, including Nazarat and Salamat Ali Kahn, and Western musicians and artists, including minimalist composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley, jazz players including Don Cherry and Lee Konitz, and calligraphic light artist Marian Zazeela. In an article for the Village Voice, Young claimed that "(Nath's) incredible intonation and his remarkable sense of melody soon convinced me that his singing was the most beautiful I had ever heard." Rolling Stone took a similar view, writing, "the tonal quality of Nath's voice is uniquely compelling, and his repetition of certain intervals over the basic drone produces a trance-like state among his listeners, or, as one put it, 'a natural high'."
A native of Lahore, Pakistan, Nath grew up surrounded by music. Each evening, his family home played host to musicians who were invited to perform by his grandfather. Singing by the age of six, Nath's desire to pursue a career in music was severely discouraged by his mother. Leaving home at the age of 13, he spent two decades studying with Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan Christi Sabri, a master of the Kirana gharana, or Krishna, style of singing that originated in the 14th century.
Nath's talents were obvious. At the age of 19, he made his debut appearance on All-India Radio. He retreated from a musical career, however, and moved into a cave in Tapkeshwar, the site of the oldest Shiva temple in India, and sang only in prayer for five years. Upon his return, it was obvious that he had grown as a performer. He now had complete control of his voice and possessed an incredibly large repertoire. Singers began to seek him out for guidance. His advanced classes in Hindustani vocal music ranked among Delhi University's most popular offerings throughout the 1960s. Performing for the first time in the United States in 1970, Nath increasingly made his presence felt in the Western world. His concert at New York's Town Hall in 1971 represented the first concert of morning ragas in North America. The following year, he became a permanent citizen of the United States and established a school, the Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, in Manhattan. After serving as artist-in-residence at the University of California in San Diego, in 1973, he taught at Mills College in Oakland as visiting professor of music until 1984. Nath continued to share his knowledge with students in India, as well. Together with a congregation of American and European disciples and students, he made an annual trip to his homeland to conduct master classes. He taught in Bremen, Germany, in 1995 and Paris, France, in 1996.
Nath was celebrated as a national treasure. In addition to receiving an award from the Guggenheim Foundation, he received numerous grants and commissions. In 1987, the MELA Foundation, with funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, commissioned him to compose an extended piece, "Darbar Daouri." From 1977 until 1985, he received a commission from the Dia Art Foundation to establish a "performing, teaching, and archival facility for the presentation and preservation of the Kirana tradition." His greatest exposure came when he was commissioned by the Kronos Quartet to compose a piece for voice and string quartet, "Aba Kee Tayk Hamaree," and sing when the group recorded it for their 1993 album, Short Stories.
Nath continued to teach and perform for the rest of his life. He performed his final concerts, featuring an afternoon and an evening raga, on May 12 and 17, 1996, at the MELA Foundation's Dream House. Returning to Berkeley, CA, following the shows, he taught a group of students for 27 days before succumbing to congestive heart failure and complications of Parkinson's Disease on June 13, 1996.