Shamshad Begum (Punjabi: ÅšamÅ›Äd BÄ“gam; April 14, 1919 â€“ April 23, 2013) was an Indian singer who was one of the first playback singers in the Hindi film industry. She had a distinctive voice and was a versatile artist, singing over 6,000 songs in Hindi and the Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Tamil and Punjabi languages. She worked with maestros including Naushad Ali, S. D. Burman, C. Ramchandra and O. P. Nayyar. Her songs from the 1940s to the early 1970s remain popular and continue to be remixed.
Shamshad Begum was born in Amritsar on April 14, 1919, the day after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in a Muslim family and had seven siblings. Her father was Miya Hussain Baksh worked as a mechanic and her mother was extremely conservative. She fell in love with Ganpat Lal Batto, a lawyer, in 1932 and, despite family objections, married him at the age of 15 in 1934. She had one daughter, Usha Ratra, who is married to Lieutenant Colonel Yogesh Ratra. Begum’s husband died in 1955 in an accident. Since her husband’s death, Begum has lived with her daughter and son-in-law in Mumbai, recently at Hiranandani Gardens in the Powai district. In around 2004, a controversy erupted in the media, when several publications gave the false news of her death, before it was clarified that the Shamshad Begum who had died in 1998 was Saira Banu’s grandmother with the same name.
Begum’s talent was first spotted by her principal when she was in primary school in 1924. Impressed by the quality of her voice, she was made head singer of classroom prayer. At 10, she started singing folk-based songs at religious functions and family marriages. She received no formal musical training. Her singing ambitions, which she held from 1929, met with opposition from her family. In 1931, when she was twelve, her uncle, who enjoyed qawwalis and ghazals, secretly took her to Jenophone (or Xenophone) Music Company for an audition with Lahore-based musician and composer, Ghulam Haider. Begum said in an interview, “I sang Bahadur Shah Zafar’s (the poet-ruler) ghazal Mera yaar mujhe mile agar.” An impressed Haider gave her a contract for twelve songs, with facilities provided to top singers. It was Begum’s paternal uncle Aamir Khan who convinced her father, Miya Hussain Baksh, to allow her to sing. When she won a contract with a recording company, her father agreed to let her sing on the condition that she would record in a burka and not allow herself to be photographed. She earned 15 rupees per song and was awarded 5,000 on the completion of the contract on Xenophone. Xenophone was a renowned music recording company, patronised by the rich, and her popularity grew in elite circles in the early 1930s. It was from Hussain Bakshwale Sahab and later Ghulam Haider who improved her singing skills. Though she had won the Xenophone audition without taking any formal music training but after that both Ghulam Haider and later Hussain Bakshwale Sahab improved her singing skills between 1937-1939