GREATEST SINGERS OF INDIA

S.P.Balasubrahmanyam

 He is considered number one singer in the world by millions of his fans and some say he is the singer of the mellenium. Words are not enough to describe this Vocal genius, His vocal talent is beyond comparison, no matter how difficult the song is just one take and you have a meticulous perfect song  which you can not believe to it's perfection, It's no wonder that he sang over 40,000 songs in a span of 40 years in different languages for different actors, no matter whom he sings for it exactly fits to the charector.Despite singing these many songs in different languages you just can't find a single error or apashruthi in his tone or modulation. He is truely a McCoy in the vocal world and no award (including Oscar or Grammy) has the power to felicitate or respect this vocal Genius. 

Born in an orthodox Telugu(Andhra Pradesh)  family on June 4, 1946 in Konetammapeta, then in A.P and now in Tamil Nadu after the splitting of the state on  the 1st of Nov 1956. SPB was the second son in a large family of three sons and five daughters. His father Sripathi Panditharadhyula Sambamurthy was a fine musician and a well-known exponent of Harikatha.

During his childhood SPB took to singing as a hobby. He never had the inclination to take up music as a profession. His father wished his son to be an engineer. That brought the teenaged Balu to Madras. He joined the AMIE course, but pursued his hobby too and won prizes in many singing competitions.

It was in 1964 that Andhra Social & Cultural Association popularly known as Andhra Club in Chennai (then Madras) with a popular film personality T.V.S . (Pratibha) Sastri as the cultural secretary organised a competition for amateur singers. It was at that time spotted by music director by music director S.P.Kodandapani who eventually  gave him a chance to sing for a Telugu movie Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna in 1966, That was the beginning to his  melodious journey and made him the legend today.

Kodandapani's prophecy has come true and SPB, the singer par excellence, is still busy singing in films, on stage in India and abroad besides occasionally donning the grease paint for a celluloid portrayal.

Balu as he is fondly called by the industry folks and friends is on the verge of entering into the Guinness Book of World Records as the singer who has rendered most number of songs.

That the man who had no basic training in classical or semi-classical music, went on to become top-notch playback singer in so many languages is no mean achievement. He won a national award for his soulful rendering in the semi-classical 'Sankarabharanam' (1979) and won appreciation from none other than the famous Carnatic exponent, Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna, who received a similar award for 'Hamse Geethe,' a film in the same genre.

 On December 15, 2006, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, the evergreen star of South Indian film music, completed four decades of singing career. On the same day in 1966, then a lanky Balu made his debut under the baton of his mentor S.P. Kodandapani to render a song along with stalwart singers of the time. His mentor had predicted then that he would be around for at least four decades as a singer.


In these four decades SPB won the national award six times as the best playback singer. His haul started with 'Sankarabharanam' (Telugu -1979) followed by 'Ek Duje Ke Liye' (Hindi -1981), 'Sagara Sangamam'- Telugu (Salangai Ozhi in Tamil -1983), 'Rudraveena'- Telugu ( remade as Unnal Mudiyum Thambi in Tamil -1988) and the Kannada film, 'Saagara Ganayogi Panchakshara Gavai' (1995) and 'Minsara Kanavu,' (Tamil-1996) – Of these six films two each were directed by K.
Viswanath and K. Balachander.

The Kannada film 'Gavai' is based on the life of a Hindustani music exponent. And SPB won the national award for a Hindustani rendering in the film. Wonderful voice, that can mould easily to a Carnatic tune or Hindustani music and can even win accolades at the national level!

 To quote the singer on the national award for the song 'Umund Ghumandu Ghana Gar Je Badara' from 'Gavai': "I felt thrilled when I came to know about the award. Its base was Hindustani classical which I do not know. First I had apprehensions about the rendition. But music director Hamsalekha insisted that I should sing. They completed the movie and waited for six months for me to sing. I relented only after practicing the song, daily for an hour. Normally I finish rendering a song in half an hour. But this one took three and a half hours to record. I underwent lot of strain while singing the number. At the end it was a rewarding experience. I am happy Hamsalekha too bagged a national award as best music director for the film."

By the way, SPB's rendering of 'Endaro Mahanubhavulu' and other Thyagaraja krithis in the film, 'Thyagayya' under the music direction of K.V. Mahadevan, can be compared with the rendering by classical exponents of Carnatic music.

Till a few years ago, one found the name of singing queen, Lata Mangeshkar, in the Guinness Book of World Records. But a controversy sparked then by late Md. Rafi made the publishers withdraw her name. Today the only singer who can find a place in the records book is S. P. Balasubrahmanyam. In 40 years he has sung nearly 40,000 songs, in all the South Indian languages, besides Oriya, Tulu, Punjabi, Gujarati and Hindi.

Balu has created a record of sorts by singing as many as 15 songs in a single day in different languages shuttling between recording theatres, without a trace of exhaustion. Mind blowing performance indeed.

Veteran music critic V.A.K. Rangarao agrees that he is a phenomenon and considers SPB as the very best as of now. Today the same mellifluous voice emanates from the burly figure as it did at when the singer was a lanky youngster. Age has not withered his voice. Nor has constant singing made it stale.


SPB rendered a lyric he had himself written and composed – 'Ragam Anuragam'.

The judges were popular music directors of the time Pendyala, Susarla and Ghantasala. SPB won the first prize, a prize that changed the course of his life.

Among those in the audience that day was S.P. Kodandapani, a Telugu music director. He offered the budding singer a film career. SPB was too bewildered to reply. This was one area he never thought till then. He was 17 plus at that time. He was too young to playback for the conventional heroes and too old to sing for the child actors. His mentor waited for two years to give him a break.

Actor-producer-director B. Padmanabham was making a Telugu film, 'Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna' in 1966. Kodandapani was the film's music director. He summoned SPB to sing along such stalwarts as Raghuramiah, P.B. Srinivos and P. Susheela, the song, 'Emi Ee Vintha Mohamu." The singer arrived.

Providence brought SPB to replace Ghantasala, the original choice for the song, recalls Padmanabham. "We had no idea then that a singer par excellence will be launched along with the film. Ghantasala had to leave for his native place as he received news that his mother was unwell. Kodandapani recommended this young lad. I was skeptical, but decided to give him a chance. To my surprise he sang like a seasoned singer. He could get it okayed in the first take itself."

It is said that later, after listening to this song, M.G.R was so impressed with the voice that he wanted SPB to sing in his 'Adimai Penn (1969). Balasubramanyam's second song, a duet, was for a Kannada film, "Nakare Adhe Swarga.' M. Rangarao who was associated with the music of 'Maryada Ramanna' gave him this break.

His third song was his first solo was for 'Private Mastaru,' under the baton of K.V. Mahadevan. He rendered a Malayalam song tuned by Devarajan for 'Kadal Palem.' SPB is perhaps the only singer in South to make a debut in so many language films almost simultaneously.

M.S. Viswanathan was the first to try Balu's voice for Tamil films. He sang a duet with L. R. Easwari in 'Hotel Rambha.' Unfortunately, the film was never completed.

But his biggest break came with M.G.R's 'Adimai Penn.' K.V. Mahadevan was the music director. When the offer came his way, SPB was suffering from viral fever. It was a near miss situation.

 

But MGR, a talent spotter, waited for SPB for a full month till he recovered and recorded the song, 'Aayiram Nilave Vaa…' which became a sensational hit. At the same time the singer also rendered for Gemini Ganesh in 'Shanti Nilayam' under the baton of M.S. Viswanathan. He won best singer award from Tamil Nadu Government for both the films.

The Siging Chemelian

No matter for whom he sings, SPB's voice suits the actor to the tee. He even 'ghost voices' with ease for Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanth and other actors whenever their films are dubbed into Telugu. Being a good mimic has helped him accomplish this feat.

He has the rare distinction of rendering most number of songs on a single by any singer – 20 in Kannada, 17 in Hindi and an equal number in Telugu.

S.P.B as a Bollywood Singer

His songs from 'Ek Duje Ke Liye' and 'Maine Pyar Kiya' catapulted him to top slot in Bollywood at that time, later most of the songs he sang  for hindi movies were national top hits, includung Hum aap ke hai koon, Saajan and many more. He sang more than 600 hundred songs in hindi.It is a rare achievement to be on the top of the South Indian film music scene for over three decades and also to prove that his voice is suitable for Hindi cinema as well.

                                 

SPB as a Music director, actor film producer and a  dubbing artist.

 SPB scored music for about 50 films and acted in as many films in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Interestingly he composed music for a Kannada film, 'Sambandha' which has no songs. He won Karnataka and A.P. State awards as an actor. "Acting is just to satisfy my inner urge as an artiste. Singing is my passion."

A multi-faceted personality, SPB received the Padma Shri and won the Tamil Nadu State award as best singer thrice and the AP State award for ten times. He received the 'Kalaimamani' from Tamil Nadu Government and a honourary doctorate from Potti Sri Ramulu Telugu University, Hyderabad besides numerous other awards.

SPB built Kodandapani Audio Lab, a state-of-art recording theatre and named it after his mentor. Many new singers try to imitate him. For them his advice is – "You can imitate my singing but not my voice. Have your own identity. No one can be an obstruction to another in this industry. With talent and luck anybody can make it here."

Prestigious Titles
1999Doctorate from Pottisreeramulu University (A.P). Presented by Governor Rangarajan.
2001Padma Shri Award from the President of India K.R. Narayanan
National Awards
1979  Sankarabharanam (Telugu)
1981  Ek Duje Keliye (Hindi)
1983Sagara Sangamam (Telugu)
1988Rudra Veena (Telugu)
1995Gaana Yogi Panchashari Gavai (Kannada)
1996Minsara Kanavu (Tamil)

State Awards

  • 1981 'Kalai Mamani' by Tamilnadu Government
  • Andhra Pradesh Government Award - Received 10 times
  • Tamil Nadu Government Award - Received 3 times
  • Film Fans' Association (Madras) Award
    (oldest association in the country) - Received 20 times

Other Awards
September 1, 2002Life time Achievement Award "Play back King", conferred during TVS Victor Aalaapana Music Awards function for the years 2001 & 2002, at Hyderabad 
August 5, 2002"Dr. Bezawada Gopala Reddy Award", given during a function in Nellore
April 7, 2002Delhi Telugu Academy's 'Rashtriya Vikas Shiromani Award (Life time)' in 2002 on the occasion of 'Ugadi 2002', held in New Delhi
Year 2002Swaralaya-Kairali-Yesudas' award in 2002
Year 2001Sangeeta Ganga award in 2001
Year 1990 Film Fare Award for the film 'Maine Pyar Kiya'
 Mia Tansen Award Sur Singar Sanjad (Bombay) for best classical rendition of a song from 'Tere Payal Mere Geeth' composed by Naushad Sab
 Innumerable Awards from Magazines & Associations fostering films
 

His Record History

  • Has recorded 17 songs in Kannada for the composer Upendra Kumar in Bangalore from 9.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. on February 8, 1981 which is a record. 
  • Has recorded 19 songs in Tamil in a day, and 16 songs in Hindi in a day, which is another notable achievement.

  • Has recorded over 39,000 songs in a span of 40 years, which include film songs and devotional numbers recorded by various recording companies of the country. It's a world record which puts his name in the Guinness Book of World Records.

                                                                                                               M.V.S.Chowdary

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