Known as the ‘Queen of Melodies’, Noor Jehan was born Allahrakhi in Kasur, Punjab (now in Pakistan). Since both her parents were musicians, it wasn’t long before she started to sing as well. She started learning classical music under Ustad Ghulam Mohammad Khan at the young age of six. She was barely eight years old when her family moved to Calcutta.
Impressed by her talent, Jahanara Kajjan, one of the leading heroines of that time, got her a role as a child actor in the “Gaibi Gola” (1935) and was eventually christened Baby Noor Jehan. Acting roles followed in several films through the 30s and she sang for the first time in the Punjabi film “Gul Bakavali” (1938). After several other opportunities as a singer-actor, her big break came when she got the lead role in the film “Khandaan” (1942) and sang several songs in it for music director Ghulam Haider. She would go on to marry the film’s director Shaukat Hussain Rizvi in 1943 against her family’s wish.
She moved to Mumbai as offers started pouring in and sang and acted for “Duhai” (1943), “Naukar” (1943), “Nadaan” (1943), “Laal Haveli” (1944) and “Dost” (1944). Her songs in “Zeenat” (1945) - “Aahen Na Bhari” and “Aandhiyan Gham Ki Yun Chali” - won her the epithet of Mallika-e-Tarannum. In the following year again, she won accolades for both her acting and singing in the film “Anmol Ghadi” (1946). This film is considered to be her best in India. For the viewer, it was both a visual and musical treat, as it had three singing stars - Surendra, Noor Jehan and Suraiya. Her last film in India was “Mirza Sahibaan” (1947).
Her career in India came to a sudden end with India’s partition and her migration to Pakistan with her husband. In five short years from 1942 to 1947, Noor Jehan captured India’s imagination and helped define the Hindi film music idiom. Her migration to Pakistan paved the path for the next female singer superstar Lata Mangeshkar. Even Lata was a big fan of Noor Jehan and emulated her style of singing in the early stages of her career.
Noor Jehan furthered her career in Pakistan. Her last film as an actress was “Baaji” (1963), though she did continue as a playback singer for a long time to come. In the year 1966, she was awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan. She breathed her last on December 23, 2000.