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date: 07 August 2020

Jan, Gauharlocked

  • Amelia Dutta


(b Allahabad, 1870; d Mysore, 1930). North Indian vocalist of Armenian Jewish descent. Her mother Malka Jan took her in 1881 to Benares (now Varanasi), where they embraced Islam. Influenced by Malka Jan's benefactor, mother and daughter began to train in music and dance under the Lucknow kathak dancer Ali Bux. Gauhar Jan later received training from Ustad Nazir Khan of Rampur, Pyare Saheb of Calcutta and Maharaj Bindadin of Lucknow.

Her first public appearance was in 1887 for the Maharaja of Darbhanga, Bihar, who appointed her as court musician-dancer. She soon became one of the most sought-after vocalists in India, performing in concerts at conferences in Lucknow, Allahabad and Calcutta. At the peak of her career, she lived in an ostentatious residence in Calcutta and commanded fees of Rs 1000 per peformance. Some of the earliest Indian records were Gauhar Jan's. She was one of the most celebrated and flamboyant courtesan singers of the early 20th century, having sung in 20 languages and made some 600 78 r.p.m. recordings. She and Janaki Bai, another courtesan singer, were paid Rs 3000 per recording session. She was popular in both North and South India and is said to have been equally competent in both Hindustani and Karnatak styles. She is also said to have sung ...

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