Gauhar Jaan (26 June 1873 - 17 January 1930) was an Indian singer and dancer (or tawaif) from Calcutta. She was one of the first performers to record music on 78 rpm records in India, and released by Gramophone Company of India.
Gauhar Jaan was born as Angelina Yeoward in on 26 June 1873 in Azamgarh, of Armenian descent. Her father, William Robert Yeoward, worked as an engineer in a dry ice factory, and married her mother, Victoria Hemmings, in 1872. Victoria, an Indian by birth, had been trained in music and dance.
In 1879 the marriage ended, causing hardships to both mother and daughter, who later migrated to Banaras in 1881, with a Muslim nobleman, 'Khursheed', who appreciated Victoria's music more than her husband.
Later, Victoria, converted to Islam and changed Angelina's name to 'Gauhar Jaan' and hers to 'Malka Jaan'.
In time, Victoria (now 'Malka Jaan') became an accomplished singer, Kathak dancer and a courtesan in Banaras, and made a name for herself, as Badi Malka Jan; she was called Badi (elder) because at that time three other Malka Jans were famous: Malka Jan of Agra, Malka Jan of Mulk Pukhraj and Malka Jan of Chulbuli, and she was the eldest among them.
Finally, Malka Jaan moved back to Calcutta in 1883, and established herself in the courts of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who had settled at Matiaburj (Garden Reach), near Kolkata and within three years purchased a building at 24 Chitpore Road (now Rabindra Sarani), for Rs. 40,000. It is here that young Gauhar started her training, she learnt pure and light classical Hindustani vocal music from, Kale Khan of Patiala, 'Kalu Ustad', Ustad Vazir Khan of Rampur, and Ustad Ali Baksh (founding members of Patiala Gharana) and Kathak from legendary Brindadin Maharaj (granduncle of Birju Maharaj), Dhrupad dhamar from Srijanbai, and Bengali Keertan from Charan Das. Soon she also started writing and composing ghazals under the pen-name 'Hamdam' and became proficient in Rabindra Sangeet.
Gauhar Jaan gave her maiden performance at the royal courts of Darbhanga Raj in 1887 and was appointed as court musician, after receiving extensive dance and music training from a professional dancer at Banaras. Gauhar Jan started performing in Calcutta in 1896 and was called the 'first dancing girl' in her records. She met Gujarati Parsi theatre artist Amrit Keshav Nayak around 1904-1905 and had a brief relationship with him before his sudden death in 1907. He helped her recover from trauma following death of her mother.
Gauhar Jaan first visited Madras in 1910, for a concert in the Victoria Public Hall, and soon her Hindustani and Urdu songs were published in a Tamil music book. In December 1911, she was famously invited to perform at the coronation of King George V at Delhi Durbar, where she sang a duet, Ye Hai Tajposhi Ka Jalsa, Mubarak Ho Mubarak Ho, with Jankibai of Allahabad. It is said that, Begum Akhtar in her early days wanted to pursue a career in Hindi films, but after listening to the singing of Gauhar and her mother, she gave up the idea completely and devoted herself to learning Hindustani classical music, in fact, her first teacher was Ustad Imdad Khan, who accompanied the mother-daughter duo on sarangi.
Eventually, in her final days, she moved to Mysore, at the invitation of Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV of Mysore, and on 1 August 1928, she was appointed as a 'Palace musician', though she died within 18 months, on 17 January 1930 in Mysore.
In her lifetime, she recorded more than 600 records from 1902 to 1920, in more than ten languages, including Bengali, Hindustani, Gujarati, Tamil, Marathi, Arabic, Persian, Pushto, French, and English. She would round off her performances for a record by announcing 'My name is Gohar Jan'.
She popularised light Hindustani classical music with her thumri, dadra, kajri, chaiti, bhajan, tarana renditions, and also mastered the technique of condensing performing the elaborate melody Hindustani classical style to just three and a half minutes for a record. Her most famous song are, thumri sung in Bhairavi is Mora nahak laye gavanava, jabse gaye mori sud huna live,Ras ke bhare Tore Nain, Mere dard-e-jigar and Bhajans like, Radhey Krishna Bol Mukhse.
India's first-ever record:
India's first disc had Gauhar Jaan, singing a khayal in Raag Jogiya, recorded on 2 November 1902, by Fred Gaisberg, an assistant to Emile Berliner, the father of Gramophone record, who left America to become the first recording engineer with the Gramophone Company, London. The recording was done in a makeshift recording studio in two large rooms of a hotel in Kolkata, and at the end of the trial recording Gauhar Jaan announced - "My name is Gauhar Jaan". Gauhar Jaan agreed to do the recording session for a princely sum of 3,000 rupees. By 1903, her records started appearing in Indian markets and were in great demand.
Restoration and release:
Saregama India (formerly the Gramophone Co. of India Ltd. or His Master's Voice (HMV)), is planning to re-release the milestone recordings of Gauhar Jaan, after retrieving them from Gramophone Company's London archives, and restoring them to their original glory.
Her songs are also part of the 'Vintage Music From India' (1996) audio album, and her image forms its cover.
Khayal and thumri gayaki of Late Gauhar Jan of Calcutta by S. R. Mehta, Volume 5 - January 1992, The Record News, The Journal of 'The Society of Indian Record Collectors (SIRC). All the back issues are available here.,
Vintage Music from India: Early Twentieth-Century Classical and Light-Classical Music, British Journal of Ethnomusicology, Vol. 3, (1994), pp. 132-132,
MY NAME IS GAUHAR JAAN! The Life and Times of a Musician - Vikram Sampath,
Erotic Malika who wrote poetry, Inder Jit Lall, Patriot Magazine, 22 April 1973,
There were four singing contemporaries of Gauhar Jaan with first names pronounced the same way as hers and sometimes spelled in English in different ways:
- Gauhar Jan of Patiala;
- Miss Gohar, who was associated with Parsi Theatrical Company in Bombay (Mumbai);
- Gohar Kayoum Mamajiwala (also known as Miss Gohar), a singer actress who was associated with and mistress of Sardar Chandulal Shah of Ranjit Films (studio), Bombay; and
- Gohar Bai Karnataki of Bijapur. She is typically associated with Bal Gandharva
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