A noted classical singer, Zohra bai Ambale wali belonged to the first generation playback singers of Hindi cinema. Born into an orthodox Muslim family, Zohrabai’s introduction to music was through the gramophone records playing in her home in Ambala (now in the Punjab).
Recognizing her musical talent, Zohrabai’s grandfather put her under the tutelage of Ghulam Hussain Khan and Ustad Nasir Hussain Khan. The latter trained her in the Agra gharana (school) of Hindustani music, and it was this robust, unrestrained style of singing that Zohrabai brought to film music.
She began her career as a radio artiste, singing mainly classical and semi-classical numbers. She also cut albums with HMV, the leading gramophone company of the time. Music Director Pransukh Nayak gave Zohrabai her first film song in Daku Ki Ladki (1933). She subsequently sang for music director Naushad Ali in Rattan, delivering such hits as Aai Diwali aai Diwali and Akhiyan mila ke, jiya bharma ke. In fact, most of the singer’s famous songs, including those in Anmol Ghadi, Mela, and Jadoo, were to come under the music direction of Naushad Ali.
Zohrabai retired in the late 1950s to help her daughter, the noted kathak dancer Roshan Kumari.