Early life and backgroundBegum Akhtar was born in Bada Darwaza, Town Bhadarsa, Bharatkund, Faizabad District, Uttar Pradesh. Her father Asghar Hussain, a young lawyer who fell in love with her mother Mushtari and made her his second wife, subsequently disowned her and his twin daughters Zohra and Bibbi (Akhtar).
CareerAkhtar 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 learnt music from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan of Lahore, and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan.
Her first public performance was at the tender age of fifteen. She took the music world by storm. The famous poetess, Sarojini Naidu, appreciated her singing during a concert which was organised in the aid of victims of a Bihar earthquake of 1934. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm. She 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 heard great musicians like Gauhar Jan and Malak Jan, however, she decided to forsake the glamour of the film world for a career in Indian 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: a variety of raags, ranging from simple to complex. After the advent of talkie era in India, Beghum Akhtar acted in a few Hindi movies in thirties. 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.
Like others of that era, she sang her songs herself in all her films. She continued acting in the following years. Subsequently Beghum Akhtar moved back to Lucknow where she was approached by the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan, as a result of which she acted in "Roti" which was released in 1942 and whose music was composed by maestro Anil Biswas. "Roti" contained six of her ghazals but unfortunately due to some trouble between producer and director, Mehboob Khan subsequently deleted 3-4 ghazals from the film. All the ghazals are available on Megaphone gramophone records. Beghum Akhtar, meanwhile, left Bombay and returned to Lucknow.
In 1945, Akhtaribai married a 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 and subsequently, she fell ill, that is when her return to music was prescribed as a befitting remedy, and 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 that lasted until her death.
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.
DeathDuring her last concert in Ahmedabad, she raised the pitch of her voice as she felt that her singing had not been as good as she had wanted it to be. She was not feeling well on the fateful day. The additional demand and stress that she put herself under resulted in her falling ill and was rushed to the hospital.
She died on October 30, 1974, in the arms of Nilam Gamadia, her friend, who invited her to Ahmedabad, which has become her final performance.
- Naseeb Ka Chakkar | -
- Kalyug Hai Jabse Aaya Maya Ne...
- Roti | Anna Sahab Mainkar
- Wo Hans Rahe Hain Aah Kiye Jaa...
- Ulajh Gaye Nayanwa Chhute Nahin...
- Char Dino Ki Jawani Matwale...
- Ai Prem Teri Balihari Ho...
- Phir Fasle Bahaar Aayi Hai...
- Rehne Laga Hai Dil Me Andhera...
- Panna Dai | Gyan Dutt
- Hamen Yaad Teri Sataane Lagi...
- Main Raja Ko Apne Rijha Ke Rahungi...
- Dana Pani | Mohan Junior
- Ishq Mujhe Aur Kuchh To Yaad Nahi...
- (1954 - hame.n dil me.n basaa bhi lo).
- Mumtaz Beghum(1934)
- Jawaani Ka Nasha(1935)
- King for a Day (1933, director : Raaj Hans)
- Ameena (1934, director : -)
- Roop Kumari (1934, director : Madan)
- Naseeb Ka Chakkar (1936, director : Pesi Karani)
- AnaarBala (1940, director : A M Khan)
- Roti (1942, director : Maadhav Kaale)
- Jalsaghar (1958; director: Satyajit Ray)