Begum Akhtar or Akhtari Bai Faizabadi (October 7, 1914 – 1974) was an Indian vocalist of Ghazal, Dadra and Thumri. Her first public performance was at the age of fifteen. She also acted in several Bollywood films, including Mumtaz Beghum (1934), Jawaani Ka Nasha(1935), King for a Day (1933, director : Raaj Hans). She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan (posthumously) by Govt. of India Today her name is almost synonymous with the concept of ghazal gayaki, and her imitable style of singing which immortalized her, and gave her the title of Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals). Begum 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).
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 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. She was raped by one of her patrons and gave birth to a daughter. In her later life as a respectable married woman she had to pretend the daughter was her cousin. 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.
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