Early Life

Begum Akhtar father, Asghar Hussain, was a young lawyer who fell in love with her mother Mushtari and made her his second wife.

Begum Akhtari Faizabadi, also known as Begum Akhtar was born on 7 October 1914 in Baradarwaja, Faizabad, to a musician mother, who was also her first trainer. His father subsequently disowned her mother  and his twin sister Zohra.

Begum Akhtar
Begum Akhtar

Later, Abdul Wahid Khan of Kirana gharana, Ramzan Khan of Lucknow, Barkhat Ali of Patiala and Ata Mohammad of Patiala trained her.

She went to Calcutta with her mother in the early 1930s. In Calcutta, she had the opportunity of meeting Jaddanbai who provided her a chance to sing on the radio.

Rise to Fame

Soon, the number of radio assignments increased and she was invited by the Megaphone Record Company to record an album. Her first ghazal ‘Woh asser-e-dam-e’ became a super hit, and within a short period of time she released a number of albums in different genres.

Her first public performance was at the age of fifteen. The famous poet Sarojini Naidu appreciated her singing during a concert.

Begum Akhtar’s good looks and sensitive voice made her an ideal candidate for a film career in her early years. However, she decided to forsake the glamour of the film world for a career in Indian classical music.

Later, she moved to Mumbai to try her luck as a playback singer in Hindi cinema industry.

Begum Akhtar in Bollywood

After the advent of talkie era in India, Begum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies in the 1930s. East India Film Company of Calcutta approached her to act in “King for a Day” (alias Ek Din Ka Badshah) and Nal Damayanti in 1933.

In 1945, Akhtari Bai married a Lucknow-based barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became known as Begum Akhtar. However, after marriage, due to her husband’s restrictions, she could not sing for almost five years.

In 1948, she made her comeback with a recital from the Lucknow radio station and quickly made her name as the trendsetter of ghazals and thumris.

Her voice matured with time, acquiring richness and depth. She sang ghazals and other light classical pieces, in her inimitable style.

Later Life

She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. Begun Akhtar was a regular performer on All India Radio. She usually composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were raag based.

Begum Akhtar was mesmerised by the poetry of Ghalib, Dadh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jigar Moradabadi, Shakeel Badayuni and Kaifi Azmi.

She even patronized new and upcoming poets from time to time. People across the country revered her and not restricted to the Hindi or Urdu speakers.

Her popularity was such that excerpts from one of her concerts appeared in a Satyajit Ray film. She taught for a short while at the Bhatkhande College of Music in Lucknow.

Music was such an important part of her life that despite her ill health and doctor’s advice she gave one last concert in Ahmedabad in late October of 1974, and passed away shortly after that.

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