János Starker was born in Budapest in 1924. He began studying the cello when he was 6 years old. By the age of 8, he was teaching his first pupil, and, by 11, he was performing in public. His early career took him through Budapest's Franz Liszt Academy and on to positions of first cellist with the Budapest Opera and with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1948, he immigrated to the United States, where he subsequently held the post of principal cellist with the Dallas Symphony, the Metropolitan Opera, and the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner.
After almost five decades of appearing on concert stages worldwide, Starker focused his efforts on teaching as a distinguished professor at Indiana University, where his master classes have attracted string players from around the world.
Starker joined the faculty of the IU Jacobs School of Music in 1958 and was the first recipient of the Tracy M. Sonneborn Award, an honor given by the university to a faculty member who has achieved distinction both as a teacher and as a scholar or artist. Among numerous awards, Starker holds seven honorary doctorates, including the most recent from Canada's McGill University in May 2008.
He died on April 28, 2013.