Nine days after she turned 94 years old, the original nightingale with a crystal clear voice, Shamshad Begum passed away in Mumbai leaving behind some of the most memorable songs of Bollywood films. This Amritsar born legend was perhaps one of the most talented and also the most underutilized female playback singer.
Many top composers acknowledged her unbelievable range but often ignored her because they feared that the gifted Mangeshkar sisters who ruled the world of music would get offended. But Rhythm King, OP Nayyar who introduced Punjabi folk music in Hindi cinema saw her potential and used her to give some of the evergreen songs of the silver screen. Though he was obsessed with Asha Bhonsle whose career he helped to build, Shamshad's voice in the superhit song ``leke pehla pehla pyar" with both Asha and Mohammad Rafi stands out. It is said that whenever this song was shown in the theatres, audiences would clap to applaud the score as well as the singers.
Both Shamshad and Rafi came from the same city and thus were the perfect foil to each other, besides being extremely suitable to sing Nayyar's melodies.
The composer also used Shamshad in a popular duet with Kishore Kumar in the fifties. The song, "meri neendon mein tum" is amongst some unparalleled melodies. She sang "kahin per nigahen kahin pe nishana", "boojh mera kya naam re" and after a break of many years, "kajra mohabbat wala" for the composer who once described her voice to be like a temple bell for its clarity and tone.
Shamshad also sang the famous Mughal-e-Azam qawali, "teri mehfil mein kismat aazmah kar hum bi dekhenge" along with Lata Mangeshkar under the baton of Naushad. It is said that while recording the qawali, the two vocalists shared the microphone. While Lata sang into the mike, Shamshad stood more than a foot away because of her enormous range. It is said that this would be a common practice whenever she sang a duet with any singer. For Naushad, she also sang, "chhod babul ka ghar" and a duet with Talat Mehmood, "milte hi aaankhen dil hua diwana kisi ka" besides many more tunes.
Her followers will always recall her other super hits like, "meri jaan meri jaan sunday ke sunday" and "mere piya gaye rangoon" for C. Ramachandran, "ek tera sahara" and "nain bhar aaye neer" for Ghulam Haider and the immortal compositions by many other music maestros.
Shamshad Begum once stated that she withdrew herself from cut-throat music world since she no longer wished to be part of any kind of bitter politics. She spent her last years with her daughter Usha Ratra and son-in-law in Bombay. Her husband Ganpat Lal Battoo passed away in the fifties. She was an ardent admirer of singer-actor KL Saigal and watched his film Devdas 14 times. The artist was conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2009 and also the OP Nayyar Award, the same year.