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Begum AkhtarBeghum Akhtar (b. Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, India, October 7, 1914; d. 1974) was a Ghazal singer from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh in India. Her real name was Akhtaribai Faizabadi. Her first public performance was at the age of fifteen. She also acted in several Hindi movies.
BiographyAkhtaribai Faizabadi, or Begum Akhtar as she was more popularly known, was born on 7th October, 1914 in the small town of Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh, in northern India. Although some biographers claim she was born in a high class family that was not musically inclined, she was in fact a hereditary performer from the community of tawaifs, or courtesans. She had a daughter to one of her patrons, whom in her later life as a respectable married woman she had to pretend was her cousin. The character of Saeeda Bai in Vikram Seth's acclaimed novel, A suitable boy, is said to be based on Begum Akhtar.
Begum Akhtar was barely seven when she was captivated by the music of Chandra Bai, an artist attached to a touring theatre group. However, at her uncle's insistence, she was sent to train under Ustad Imdad Khan, the great sarangi exponent from Patna, and later under Ata Mohammed Khan, of Patiala. Later she travelled to Calcutta, with her mother and started learning music from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan ,of Lahore and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan Saheb.
Her first public performance was at the tender age of fifteen. She took the music world by storm. The famous poetess Smt. Sarojini Naidu appreciated her singing during a concert which was organised in the aid of victims of Bihar, earthquake. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm. She also cut her first disc for the Megaphone Record Company, at that time. A number of gramophone records were released carrying her ghazals, dadras,thumris,etc.
Begum Akhtar's good looks and sensitive voice made her an ideal candidate for a film career in her early years. When she chanced to hear great singers like Gauharjaan and Malakjaan, however, she decided to forsake the glamour of the film world for a career in classical music. Her supreme artistry in light classical music had its moorings in the tradition of pure classicism. She chose her repertoire in primarily classical modes, comprised of a variety of ragas ranging from simple to complex.
She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for vocal music and a mere Padma Shri a few years before her death. She was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan. To the public, though, Begum Akhtar was the "Queen of Ghazals," and it is this popular acclaim that seemed to be of most value to her.
In 1945, the erstwhile Akhtaribai was married to 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 5 years, and subsequently, she fell ill. Music was prescribed as the only remedy! In 1949, she returned to the recording studios. She sang three ghazals and a dadra at Lucknow Radio Station. She wept afterwards and returned to singing in concerts, a practice which lasted until her death.
Begum Akhtar is almost synonymous with the concept of ghazal gaayaki. She immortalized her own definitive style of singing - a style that few have been able to match. She is rightly known as Mallika-e-Ghazal.
Her voice matured with time, adding richness and depth. She sang ghazals and other light classical pieces, singing them in her inimitable style. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She was a regular performer on All India Radio. She usually composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were raag based.
During her last concert which was held in Ahmedabad, she had raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing that day had not been as good as she had wanted it to be. She had not been feeling well that day to begin with. The additional demand and stress she put herself under resulted in her falling ill and being rushed to the hospital. She died on 30th of October, 1974, in the arms of Nilam Gamadia, her long time friend, who had invited her to Ahmedabad, for what was her final performance. Begum Akhtar has left a big void in ghazal lovers' hearts.
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