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The Forgotten Diva !

Updated: Jul 17, 2022

She was very choosy about her audience in her heydays. She refused to perform for the king of a 'small' princely state in Madhya Pradesh, India. But with the king's perseverance, she finally agreed at a sky-high fee and demanded a special train for her 111-member entourage. The entourage had laundry men, barbers, maids, horses, orderlies and so on! This is like chartering a customised Boeing 787 or an ocean liner these days for headlining international rock bands.

She was uber-rich and would charge anything between Rs. 1000/- to Rs. 3000/- for one single gig. The era. 1900. And that was really big money.

She loved dressing up in the choicest of gowns and the finest of jewellery. And it said that she never seemed to wear the same jewels twice. Besides, she had a passion for cars and royal carriages. And in a man's world, she used to make trips to Bombay during the racing season. To play races, of course.

Her home was known for its opulence. She became famous for the manner in which she flaunted her wealth. Once, it is believed that she blew Rs. 1200 to celebrate the marriage of her pet cat. And like any myth, this one too has a counterstory to it. She spent Rs. 20,000 rupees for a party when her pet cat had a litter of kittens !!

Flamboyance was her second name and she was a Diva !

Once she was riding her 6 horse-pulled phaeton. The Governor, whom she passed, doffed his hat at her mistaking her for royalty. Later, when he came to know that she was a 'just' a singer - performer or 'Tawaif' as they would refer in those days, he slapped a fine of Rs. 1000/- for flouting a rule forbidding commoners from riding a horse carriage. And the diva paid.

She continued the practice and would pay her fines and ride her 6 horse-pulled phaeton!
Frederick Gaisberg, who was sent by Gramophone and Typewriter Ltd to make audio recordings in India, said that "she never repeated her costumes. During performances, rifle-wielding soldiers often guarded her jewelry".

She charged Rs. 3000/- for capturing her voice on a vinyl record that went back to Germany for processing. It was November 11th, 1902. The date has gone down in history as her being the first recorded artist in India.

Between 1902 to 1920, she recorded over 600 songs in nearly 20 languages and multiple genres.

She, of Armenian origin, was born Angelina Yeoward in 1873 in Patna and went on to become a superstar, a diva, a rebel, a singer with larger-than-life artist capabilities and a fairy tale lifestyle; who died sadly in penury.

She had lost her men in life. Got cheated of wealth and belief. In her later years in life, she served as the court singer in the court of Darbhanga. Then Rampur after which she moved to Bombay for a short period.

King Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV of Mysore, India appointed her as his court musician on August 1, 1928. But this only lasted 18 months. She died on January 17, 1930.

We know, or maybe don't even know, her. Gauhar Jaan, India's first recording artist.

(disclaimer - images have been sourced from the internet. we don't have any claim on them. used as reference)
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