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Shamshad Begum was born in Amritsar on April 14, 1919. Her father was Miya Hussain Baksh worked as a mechanic and her mother was extremely conservative. She fell in love with Ganpat Lal Batto, a lawyer, in 1932 and, despite family objections, married him at the age of 15 in 1934.
Begum's talent was first spotted by her principal when she was in primary school in 1924. At 10, she started singing folk-based songs at religious functions and family marriages. She received no formal musical training. Her popular breakthrough came when she began singing on All India Radio (AIR) in Peshawar and Lahore from 1937. Mehboob Khan brought Shamshad Begum to Mumbai. By 1940, Begum was already well established on radio. The song "Cheechi Wich Pa ke Chhalla" from Yamla Jatt of 1940 became a huge hit and popularised Pran, singer Begum and composer Haider. Begum sang extensively for composers including Naushad, O. P. Nayyar, C. Ramchandra and S. D. Burman from 1946 to 1960. Begum is credited with singing one of the first Westernised songs, "Meri jaan...Sunday ke Sunday" by Ramchandra. She kept getting more offers to sing songs and was the highest paid female singer from 1940 to 1955 and again post Mother India in 1957 to 1964. In 1949, music directors S. Rajeshwara Rao, M. D. Parthasarathy and Balakrishna Kalla asked her to sing "Jaiyo Jaiyo Shipayon Bazar" for P. Bhanumati in the film Nishan, produced by Gemini Films of Madras, which became highly popular. In 1954, when Nayyar got a break as a composer, He worked with her until the late 1960s and gave her many hit songs, including "Ab To Jee Hone Laga" from Mr. & Mrs. '55, "Main Jaan Gayi Tujhe" from Howrah Bridge, "Zara Pyar Karle" from Mangu (1954), "Saiyan Teri Ankhon Mein" from 12' O Clock (1957), "Thodasa Dil Lagana" from Musafirkhana, and many others.
Several of her songs from this period remain extremely popular, including those acted by Nigar Sultana, such as "Teri Mehfil Mein" from Mughal E Azam and "Mere Piyan Gaye" from Patanga (1949), as well as "Saiyan Dil Mein Aana Re", acted by Vyjantimala, and "Boojh Mera Naam Hai", acted by Minoo Mumtaz. "Milte hi aankhen dil hua" from Babul (1950) had a romantic duet with Talat Mahmood, acted by Dilip Kumar and Munawar Sultana, which also became popular. Her duet with Rafi, "Chhala Deja Nishani" from Bazar (1949) became a mega-hit.
Shamshad was at the peak of her career right from 1940-1955 and was the most in demand female singer and highest paid female playback singer from 1940-1955but after her husband's accidental death in 1955, Begum became a recluse and stopped accepting singing assignments, including recordings, for a year. Though she had stopped recording for her songs in the year 1955 after her husband's death, the songs released between 1955 and early 1957 including songs from films such as C.I.D., Naya Andaz, Baradari, Mr. & Mrs. '55 and other hits continued to be popular . At this juncture Mehboob Khan approached her in 1957 and said he wanted a full-throated voice for Nargis in Mother India. The first song she sang after returning to her career was "Pee ke ghar aaj pyari dulhaniya chali" for Mother India. She made a successful comeback, and subsequently recorded many notable songs for films such as Howrah Bridge, Jaali Note, Love in Simla, Bewaqoof, Mughal-e-Azam, Bluff Master, Gharana and Rustom-E-Hind.
In 2009, she was conferred with the prestigious O. P. Nayyar award for her contribution to Hindi film music. She was also conferred the Padma Bhushan in 2009. Begum died at her Mumbai residence on the night of April 23, 2013 after a prolonged illness. She was 94.She was cremated in a small, dignified ceremony.