Van Shipley is credited with being the first electric guitarist in India. A very well-known name in the Hindi film industry, Van Shipley not only played the guitar and the violin, but also composed music for films, and was one of the first musicians to release independent albums of instrumental renditions of Hindi film songs. He was born Valentine Van Shipley in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh on 30th August 1927, into a family of music lovers. His mother was a skilled sitar player, whose guru was the famed Ustad Yusuf Ali Khan. His siblings, three brothers and two sisters, were also talented musicians who had inherited their mother's love and talent for music. Valentine was the only one though, who would go on to become a professional musician. His father, a high-ranking army officer, later served at the Botanical Gardens, Saharanpur. Here, young Van Shipley would learn to play the tabla, the violin and the guitar. 

Van Shipley took his first violin lessons from Gagan Chatterjee, an Allahabad-based violinist. He also learnt Hindustani classical music from Ustad Bande Hasan Khan and his son Ustad Zinde Hasan Khan, who were noted khayal singers. The young lad would soon accompany them on the violin. At around the same time, Van Shipley was also taking lessons in western music.  Ustad Vilayat Khan was his schoolmate and friend, and he forged a lasting friendship with Pandit Ravi Shankar whom he met in 1941.

His interest and training in Hindustani classical music would make him build a unique eight-string guitar in the 1940s designed to allow him to adapt the guitar to play Indian classical music. He also designed an electric violin, which he called his Gypsy Violin, that he would use on almost all his later records. One of his most cherished accomplishments was his record for Columbia where he played Raag Jogiya and Raag Yaman Kalyan  on the guitar.

In 1940, he made the acquaintance of singer Talat Mehmood, who had by then made his name singing ghazals at the All India Radio, Lucknow, and invited Van Shipley to join him. This was the beginning of a life that centred around music. While in Lucknow, Van Shipley continued his training in violin from Ustad Allaudin Khan. He also took sarod lessons from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who was then the music director of AIR, Lucknow.

Film music beckoned, and Van Shipley moved to Pune where he joined Prabhat studios. His first job was as assistant music director  to music director duo Husnlal-Bhagatram, for the film, Chand (1944). While in Pune, Van Shipley formed a few lasting friendships - with Dev Anand and Guru Dutt, with whom he shared living quarters, and with character actors Rehman and Sapru. When Prabhat Studios split, Van Shipley made the move to Bombay, joining producer Baburao Pai. His earliest films were Nargis (1946), Anmol Ghadi (1946) and Mera Suhag (1947). He was soon working with music directors like Khemchand Prakash, C Ramchandra, Anil Biswas, Roshan and Ghulam Haider.

In 1947, Van Shipley went on a six-month tour of South America, the Hawaiian Islands, and South Africa to study the music of those countries. When he returned, he began making waves as a soloist, and was in great demand, both as guitarist and violinist.

It was at this time that fate intervened again. An adolescent Nutan, whose family was known to Van Shipley, asked him if he would perform in a show with her at St Xavier's College, Bombay. Producer-director-actor Raj Kapoor was the producer of the show. He had just released his debut film as a director the year before. Impressed with Van Shipley's finesse with the violin, Raj Kapoor offered him his next film Barsaat (1949). Raj Kapoor's character played the violin throughout the film, and he wanted Van Shipley to do the violin playback. The hugely successful film ensured that Van Shipley became a name to be reckoned with. His violin solo would become so enmeshed with the screen-shot that eventually became the RK logo. He became an integral part of Raj Kapoor's team of musicians. In 1952's Awara, he added his electric guitar to the famous dream sequence. This one song is enough to forever enshrine his name in the pantheon of the greats. Van Shipley was a prolific musician and worked in more than 1500 films, and was one of the few individual musicians who was mentioned in film credits. He was the first to record instrumental versions of film songs, beginning some time in the early 50s when the success of Barsaat brought him to the notice of recording company, HMV. They signed him up as an individual instrumentalist; his first record for them was the instrumental version of Tum bhi bhula do (Jugnu), rendered on the guitar.   

18th March 1952 found Van Shipley's life taking another turn - this was the day he got married to Olive.

In 1955, Van Shipley teamed up with Enoch Daniels, the accordion player whom he met while at Prabhat Studios, Pune. It was a partnership that would last many, many years. In 1956, along with Talat Mehmood and CH Atma, Van Shipley and Enoch Daniels toured British East Africa - they pioneered live stage shows by Indian performers.

Van Shipley loved the travel, the opportunity to meet different people, the varied experiences that came with live shows. He continued to tour the world on live shows in Europe, the Middle East, the Caribbean Islands, Suriname, Guyana and many cities in USA - New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit. This prompted Mr Bhaskar Menon, President and ex-CEO, Capitol Industries, EMI, Inv to call him 'The Restless Globetrotter'.   

He performed for heads of state such as Zhou En-Lai, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Alexei Kosygin, Mrs Indira Gandhi and VV Giri amongst others. His most cherished performances were those at the coronation of His Late Majesty of Iran, for the Aga Khan in Nairobi in 1957, and for Jawaharlal Nehru, our late prime minister. Pandit Nehru was so impressed with the performance that he presented Van Shipley with a red rose to show his appreciation.

Van Shipley also performed widely for charitable causes. He was always ready to put his talent at the government's command, performing for fundraisers for relief measures following various natural disasters such as flood, famine, drought, and for causes such as the Red Cross, Police Welfare, Poor Students and the Blind, Retired Army, Navy and Air force Personnel, Kashmir Floods, Prime Minister's Relief Fund, etc.
Van Shipley spoke impeccable Urdu, and had his own calligraphy set so he could write the language. He was also a fine painter, and a keen photographer.

A little known fact about Van Shipley is that he also acted in a few films, beginning with guest appearances in Fareb (1953), Dharampatni, Carnival Queen and Cha Cha Cha. He also acted as the hero in a couple of movies, which, according to his own notes, did not prove to be successful. 

Van Shipley's first independent record was released in 1962. It was named The Man with the Golden Guitar, a description that would stick to him for the rest of his career. (From then on, he would release an album every year until 1982.) Van Shipley died of a heart attack on 8th March 2008. But his musical legacy lives on, and even today, music aficionados from all over the world trawl the 'Net for his music.