Shamshad Begum was born on April 14, 1919 in Amritsar. A movie buff, she was a K L Saigal fan and reportedly watched Devdas 14 times. She promised her father that she would never appear before the camera, and so forged a long and successful camera in the recording studio. In fact, so faithfully did she keep her promise to her father that the public at large did not know what she looked like till well into the 1970s.
Shamshad Begum made her singing debut on Peshawar Radio in 1947. She then sang for All India Radio as part of Delhi's Crown Imperial Theatrical Company of Performing Arts. Her songs were frequently broadcast on AIR Lahore, bringing her voice to the notice of music directors.
Her very first mentors were sarangi maestro Ustad Hussain Bakshwale Saheb and composer Ghulam Haider. Shamshad Begum's earliest film songs were in Ghulam Haider's Khazanchi (1941) and Khandaan (1942). Ghulam Haider soon moved from Lahore to Mumbai, taking Shamshad Begum with him as part of his team.
Shamshad Begum's unique voice and style of singing set her apart from contemporaries such as Geeta Bai, Amirbai Karnataki, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. She sang some of Hindi cinema's best-loved numbers between the 1940s and 1950s. Her hit parade, many of which have been remixed, include: Leke pehla pehla pyar and Kahin pe nigahen kahin pe nishana from C.I.D, Kabhi aar kabhi paar from Aar Paar, Mere piya gaye Rangoon from Patanga, Saiyyan dil mein aana re from Bahar and Kajra mohabbatwala from Kismat, in which she sang not for the heroine, played by Babita, but for the hero, played by Biswajeet, in drag.
In 2009, Shamshad Begum received the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian honour. The same year, she also received the O P Nayyar award for her contribution to the world of film music.
Shamshad Begum was married to Ganpat Lal Batto who died in 1955. She is survived by her daughter Usha and son-in-law.