Akhtaribai popularly known as Begum Akhtar was born on 7th Oct 1914 at Bada Darwaza, Town Bhadarsa, Bharatkund, District Faizabad U P.She showed interest in music at a very young age and was sent to train under the great sarangi player, Ustad Imdad Khan. Later, she learnt classical music from great exponents of this field like Mohammad Khan, Abdul Waheed Khan and Ustad Jhande Khan Saheb.
Her first public performance was at the age of fifteen. Her first recording was done by the Megaphone Record Company at the age of Fifteen. The famous poet Sarojini Naidu appreciated her singing during a concert which was organised in the aid of victims of the 1934 Nepal–Bihar earthquake. This encouraged her to continue singing ghazals with more enthusiasm.
Begum Akhtar was very beautiful and her sensitive voice made her an ideal candidate for a film career in her early years.
Those days only those actors were chosen who can sing also. Begum Akhtar was also approached by many people from Bombay to work in films. So she acted in a few Hindi films She was signed by East India Film Company as a singing actor. Her first film was East India Film Company’s ‘Ek Din Ka Baadshah’ (1933). This was followed by ‘Nal Damyanti’ (1933), ‘Mumtaz Begum’ (1934), ‘Roop Kumari’ (1934), ‘Ameena’ (1934), ‘Jawani Ka Nasha’ (1935), ‘Naseeb Ka Chakkar’ (1936) etc.. In all these films, she sang all her songs herself.
After staying at Bombay for a few years she came back to Lucknow, where she was approached by the famous producer-director Mehboob Khan, to act in Roti which was released in 1942 and whose music was composed by the maestro Anil Biswas.
In 1945, Akhtari Bai married a Lucknow-based barrister, Ishtiaq Ahmed Abbasi, and became known as Begum Akhtar. However, after marriage, due to her husband's restrictions, she could not sing for almost five years. In 1949 she returned back to the recording studios.She became a regular singer in Akashvani Lucknow Radio station.
Begum Akhtar was persuaded by Madan Mohan, a famous music director to sing in two movies "Daana Paani" (1953) and "Ehsaan" (1954). The songs "Aye Ishq Mujhe Aur to Kuch Yaad" and "Hamein Dil Mein Basa Bhi Lo" were absolutely melodious and were liked by one and all. Her last movie stint was that of a classical singer in Satyajit Ray's film "Jalsa Ghar". Begum Akhtar was a refined Ghazal singer and was called as Mallika-e-Ghazal or the Queen of Ghazals.
She received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for vocal music and was awarded Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan(posthumously) by Govt. of India. She was given the title of Mallika-e-Ghazal (Queen of Ghazals).