Begum Akhtar, popularly referred as Mallika-E-Tarannum or Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals) was one the finest Hindustani classical singer of dadra, thumri and ghazals. Along with singing she also acted in few films. Begum Akhtar real name was Akhtari Bai Faizabadi. She was born on 7 October 1914 in Faizabad District of Uttar Pradesh. At young age, she started learning music from some of the stalwarts of Indian classical music such as Ustad Imdad Khan, Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan and Ustad Jhande Khan Saheb.
Begum Akhtar gave her first public performance at the age of 15 in Bihar. The function was held for generating aid for the victims of 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. Her soft voices touched everyone. It is said that the famous poet Sarojini Naidu had appreciated her and that encouragement catalysed the zeal for music in Begum Akhtar.
In no time, Begum Akhtar became a hit and she moved out from singing in mehfils and private parties to public concert. Later on, a number of gramophone records were released carrying her ghazals, dadras and thumris. Some of her famous ghazals among many are: Mohabbat Tere Anjam Pe, Woh Jo Ham Mein Tum Mein; Na Ja Balam Pardes; Aye Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe; Dil Hi Tu Hai, Pher Mujhe Dedae Tar. “Her supreme artistry in light classical music had its moorings in the tradition of pure classicism.” She chose her repertoire in variety of raags, ranging from simple to complex.
Beghum Akhtar also acted in few movies. Like others of her era, she sang her songs in all her films. She was approached by the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan for Roti in which she acted. The movie was released in 1942.
In 1945, she married a Lucknow-based barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became Begum Akhtar. After her marriage, she could not sing for almost five years and subsequently, she fell ill, that is when her return to music was prescribed as a befitting remedy, and in 1949 she returned to the recording studios. She sang for All India Radio and started doing concerts, a practice that lasted until her death on 30 October 1974 in Ahmedabad where she had gone for performance.
She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. One of the timeless Bengali classical song “Jochona Koreche Aari” was sang by her. Beghum Akhtar received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music, and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan posthumously.