He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1988, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002, by the Government of India. He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1990, given by the Sangeet Natak Akademi, India’s National Academy of Music, Dance & Drama. In 1999, he was awarded the United States National Endowment for the Arts‘ National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given to traditional artists and musicians.
Hussain was a child prodigy. His father taught him Pakhawaj from the age of 3 years. Zakir’s father Alla Rakha belonged to the tradition of tabla-playing known as the Punjab baaj, one of the six main traditions (baaj) of north Indian tabla drumming, the others being Delhi, Benares, Ajrara, Farrukhabad, and Lucknow.
He was touring by the age of eleven. He went to the United States in 1969 to do his PhD at the University of Washington, receiving a doctorate in music. After that he began his international career, including more than 150 concert dates a year.