Akhtaribai Faizabadi (1914-1974), popularly known as Begum Akhtar, was born on 7 October 1914 in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh. She was born in a high status family that was not musically inclined. However, at her uncle’s insistence, she was sent to train under the great Sarangi exponent, Ustad Imdad Khan. Later she received her training under from classical stalwarts like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan and finally she became the disciple of Ustad Jhande Khan. She started public performances at the age of fifteen years. She cut her first disc for the Megaphone Record Company, and later released a number of gramophone records of her ghazals, dadras, thumris, etc. Begum Akhtar also acted in a few Hindi movies in the 1930s. She acted in Ek Din Ka Badshah, Nal Damayanti, Ameena, Mumtaz Begum, and Roti, etc., and she sang all her songs in films herself.
In 1945, Begum Akhtar was married to barrister Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi. After marriage, due to her husband’s restrictions, she could not sing for five years. She fell ill and music was prescribed as the only remedy. In 1949, she returned to the recording studios again. Later on she started singing in concerts, a practice which lasted until her death. Begum Akhtar is almost synonymous with the concept of ghazal gaayaki, and she has immortalized her own style of singing. She has nearly four hundred songs to her credit. She usually composed her own ghazals and most of her compositions were based on raags. She acted on stage as well, which required her to raise her voice so that she could be heard at the back also. Her voice was adversely affected by it. During her last concert in Ahmedabad, she had raised the pitch of her voice so high that she put herself under stress. She fell ill and was rushed to the hospital. She passed away on 30 October 1974, leaving a big void in ghazal lovers’ hearts.
She was posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan. Just eight days before her death she recorded Kaifi Azmi’s ghazal.