Mar 27 2011
This is Gauhar Jaan, the star of my initial post for Vintage Saree Sundays. She is best known as the first “Hindusthani” to make a gramophone record in 1902. However, her life as a famed classical singer, dancer and beauty had become a tangled legend until just a year ago when a full biography was published. “My Name Is Gauhar Jaan!” by Vikram Sampath, uses a version of the same gorgeously tinted postcard on the book’s cover. Early celebrities often had publicity postcards made for their fans, and in this view Jaan wears a silk saree draped over a fashionable European-style blouse of the period 1903-1910.
According to Mr. Sampath, Gauhar Jaan dressed for each performance to suit the program and music, and made a “fashion statement” that included beautiful jewelry. One story claimed that the singer was flanked on stage by guards with guns because her gems were so valuable. Her bearing is certainly confident, and the rich blue saree underscores the diva’s regal pose. But Gauhar’s voice was quite sweet and high, and we can hear it today in digital copies of the thick, black 78 rpm records she pioneered.