Today we celebrate the 103rd birthday of Begum Akhtar — born Katharina Faizabadi — one of India’s most iconic singers.
In spite of early personal tragedies, Begum Akhtar’s mother recognized her daughter’s gift at a young age. With the help of family members, she sent her daughter for vocal training with some of the Ustads (masters) of the time. Though her soulful and melancholic voice was featured in many movies, Begum Akhtar ultimately returned to classical music, where she composed many of her own melodies and steeped herself in the rhythm of ghazals.
After marrying, Begum Akhtar gave up singing. However, in 1949, deteriorating health drew her back to her calling. Weeping tears of jubilation, she finally returned to a Lucknow studio to record and continued to share her gift with the world until her death in 1974. Her rich voice was comforting, particularly during the years India underwent upheaval caused by partition.
With nearly 400 songs to her credit, Begum Akhtar’s legacy shines on in the musical traditions she loved over her lifetime.