Mesmerising voice of Shamshad Begum falls silent

Shamshad Begum during an interaction with The Hindu on June 9, 2009. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf

Shamshad Begum during an interaction with The Hindu on June 9, 2009. Photo: Mohammed Yousuf  

Shamshad Begum, one of the earliest and most versatile playback singers from the golden age of Bollywood music, died at her residence here on Tuesday night after prolonged illness. She was 94.

“She was not keeping well for the past few months and was admitted to the hospital. She passed away on Tuesday night,” said Usha Ratra, Ms. Begum’s daughter, speaking from the singer’s residence at Hiranandani Gardens in Powai in suburban Mumbai.

The funeral was a quiet, solemn affair, with only a few close friends of the family being present, said the 77-year-old Ms. Ratra.

Her husband, Ganpat Lal Batto, a lawyer, passed away in 1955. Her son-in-law is Yog Ratra.

Born in Amritsar in Punjab in 1919, she made her debut on Peshawar Radio in Lahore in December 1947.

She then sang for All India Radio (AIR) as part of her music group, The Crown Imperial Theatrical Company of Performing Arts, set up in Delhi.

In her nearly 35-year tryst with the Hindi film music, Ms. Begum recorded some of the finest and most popular songs ever composed by crème de la crème of the film music fraternity which included celebrated composers like Ghulam Haider, Naushad, O.P. Nayyar, S.D. Burman, Anil Biswas and C. Ramachandra among others.

While her contemporaries included luminaries such as Noorjehan, Suraiyya, Geeta Dutt, Amirbai Karnataki, she also sung many duets with the then emerging new voice, ‘melody queen’ Lata Mangeshkar.

Ms. Begum received a Padma Bhushan in 2009. The same year, she was also decorated with the O.P. Nayyar award for her contribution to film music.

Tributes flowed in from all quarters. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his message said, “Ms. Begum was among the most popular singers of the country for over three decades and captured the hearts of music lovers with her enchanting voice and unique tonal rendition.”

Ms. Begum was an artist of extraordinary talent and abilities, and the songs that she had left behind in her long career would continue to enthrall music lovers, Dr. Singh said.

“I am saddened by her death. As a person, she [Shamshad Begum] was very simple and cheerful,” Ms. Lata Mangeshkar tweeted.

Maharashtra Governor K. Sankaranarayanan expressed grief at her passing, remarking that “Shamshadji had a unique voice that touched the heart of the listener.”

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2020 1:26:39 AM |

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