Shamshad Begum was arguably the only surviving star singer from the pre-Lata Mangeshkar era. Her presence reminded us of a past that will now recede into romantic memory.
“(She) excelled in pre-passion, frothy love songs. Her voice tone, her ability… to be conversational in music without entirely sacrificing musicality… elicit responses ranging from a smile that lights up a face to a wide grin,” late ethnomusicologist Ashok Ranade, wrote about her in his 2006 book, Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries.
By the 1970s, though, Hindi film sound studios had begun to go high-tech, and live recordings — complete with multiple singers and musicians — began to be replaced by electronic mixing. Shamshad quietly withdrew and slowly passed into oblivion.
Today, her songs live on, ironically, in remixed versions. But that too is a tribute.
(Amarendra Dhaneshwar is a Gwalior gharana vocalist and writer)