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Hindi Singer Shamshad Begum Dead at 94

She was one of the earliest to sing for Bollywood actresses

Throaty-voiced thrush Shamshad Begum, one of Bollywood’s earliest singers, died on April 23 in Mumbai, India. She was 94 and had been ailing for some time.

Before Lata Mangeshkar put her stamp on India’s film industry as the prima singer who provided the voice for many Hindi film actresses, Begum’s distinctive notes were behind such hits as “Mere piya gaye Rangoon” in “Patanga” (1949) and “Leke pehla pehla pyar” from “C.I.D.” (1956).

“I am saddened to hear of the death of Shamshad Begum. I have sung with her in several films and she had a pleasant and simple personality,” Mangeshkar tweeted.

Born in Lahore, Punjab, Begum grew up singing at weddings and social events, and was discovered in primary school at age 10. Despite family objections, Begum signed a deal at age 12 with the Xenophone Recording Co. for the princely sum of 15 rupees per song and 5,000 rupees when she finished the contract. Her father insisted she record wearing a burka and not be photographed.
Also over family objections, Begum, raised a Muslim, fell in love with Hindu lawyer Ganpat Lal Batto and married him at age 15.

Begum made her film debut as a playback singer in “Khazanchi” (1941) and her radio bow in Lahore in 1937. When her mentor Ghulam Haider moved to Bombay in 1944, she joined him, but stayed on when he left for Pakistan after India was partitioned in 1947.

With a deep voice that differed from other playback singers of the period, she was much sought after during the 1940-50s by top composers such as Naushad, O.P. Nayyar, C. Ramachandra and S.D. Burman. She not only recorded in Hindi but also regional Indian languages such as Gujarati, Bengali and Telugu.

She recorded songs for films such as India’s first foreign-language Oscar nominee, “Mother India” (“O gadiwala dheere” and “Holi aayee re Kanhaai”), “Naya andaz” (“Meri neendon main tum, meri khwabon mein tum”) and “Babul’s” “Chod babul ka ghar.” Ramachandra tapped into the mischievous sound in her voice for fun songs such as “Aana mere jaan Sunday ke Sunday” and “Mere piya gaye Rangoon.”

But by the late 1950s Mangeshkar and her sister Asha Bhonsle were ascending and there was little demand for Begum, although some of her fave composers had her sing a number occasionally. Her last song was for the film “Main papi tum bakhshanhaar” in 1976.

India awarded the the Padma Bhushan, one of its top awards, to Begum in 2009.

Survivors include a daughter.

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