Real name of Begum Akhtar was “Akhrati Bai Faizabadi”. She was born in 1914 to a single mother, a tawayaf, in Faizabad, which was capital of Awadh in those times. In the 1920s she acted on Calcutta stage and sang in mehfils. In 1930s she moved to Bombay and acted in 9 films, however, realized that acting was not her job. In 1939, she returned to Lucknow and set up her own Salon, which was called Kotha in vernacular language. She recorded several 78RPM discs and became a celebrity. In 1940s, the women of salon started losing patronage. During these days, she entered into relationship with a Lawyer Ishtiaq Abbasi, who married her despite all social pressure to not to go for that. With that marriage, her name was changed to Begum Akhtar.
One of the imperatives of the marriage was that she had to leave music. It was not possible for her, so fell sick. Doctors advised her to resume music, her husband relented on a condition that she would not sing in Lucknow.
She came back to Mumbai and became Mallika-e-ghazal.
Some other notable facts about Begum Akhtar
- She beautifully sang sang thumris, dadras, chaitis etc.
- Kaifi Azmi wrote that his Ghazals would be immortalised if rendered by her.
- Pt Jasraj said that he decided to pursue vocal music only after listening to Beghum Akhtar on a gramophone
- Begum Akhtar adapted her music for radio and recording studios without letting the finer nuances of poetry lose its beauty.