Legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam died on Friday while undergoing treatment for of Covid-19 in a Chennai hospital, at the age of 74.
Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam, popularly known as Balu and SPB, has sung more than 40,000 songs in a career spanning nearly 55 years and enthralled millions of people with his youthful voice.
Singer SP Balasubrahmanyam had been undergoing treatment in MGM Healthcare since August 5.
The same day, the singer SP Balasubrahmanyam posted a video on his social media page. “Last two to three days, I have been having a little discomfort. Discomfort means little chest congestion, which for a singer is nonsense,” SPB said in his video message.
It was movie director Venkat Prabha who first tweeted about the singer’s death.
Prabhu tweeted “#RIPSPB 1:04pm”, announcing the sad news.
Andhra Pradesh governor Biswa Bhusan Harichandan and chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy condoled his demise.
“The chief minister has expressed his profound grief over the passing away of singer SP Balasubrahmanyam, renowned playback singer, artiste and composer,” said an official.
Reddy said Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam, popularly known as SPB, was refreshing with his film music, spanning over five decades, and enthralled the connoisseurs and common people alike through his multifaceted talent.
Harichandan also expressed grief and sadness over the demise.
“Balasubrahmanyam is a household name, not only in the Telugu states but the entire country as an iconic playback singer in 16 languages, predominantly Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, and Malayalam,” he said.
Legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar who had a sung a number of songs with SPB tweeted that she is deeply saddened by the news of SPB’s demise with whom she had recorded many songs, and have shared the stage together.
Music director and singer A R Rahman took to twitter to share a picture of himself with singer SP Balasubrahmanyam and wrote “ripspb…Devastated”
Singer SP Balasubrahmanyam was an Indian musician, playback singer, music director, actor, dubbing artist and film producer who worked predominantly in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Malayalam.
Born into a Telugu family and raised in Nellore, SPB was born in Konetampet (Konetammapeta) village in North Arcot district of Madras Presidency, which is presently the Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu.
With two sons and five daughters, SPB’s father was an artist who acted in plays and his mother died last year on February 4.
He developed an interest in music at an early age and studied notations and learned music. He got enrolled at an engineering college with the intention of becoming an engineer.
However, he discontinued his studies early due to typhoid and joined as an Associate Member of the Institution of Engineers, Chennai instead.
He continued to pursue music during his engineering studies and won awards in singing competitions. In 1964, he won the first prize in a music competition for amateur singers organised by the Madras-based Telugu Cultural Organisation.
He was the leader of a light music troupe composed of Anirutta (on the harmonium), Ilaiyaraaja (on guitar and later on harmonium), Baskar (on percussion), and Gangai Amaran (on guitar).
He was selected as the best singer in a singing competition judged by S P Kodandapani and Ghantasala.
Often visiting music composers seeking opportunities, his first auditioned song was Nilave Ennidam Nerungadhe. It was rendered by veteran playback singer P.B Srinivas, who used to write and give him multilingual verses in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit, English and Urdu.
Career of SP Balasubrahmanyam
SPB has lent his voice to 40,000 songs in 16 languages, for over five decades.
He made his debut as a playback singer on 15 December 1966 with Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna, a Telugu film scored by his mentor, S P Kodandapani. His first recorded Tamil song, Athaanodu Ippadi Irundhu Eththanai Naalaachu, never got released.
He was introduced to the Malayalam film industry by G Devarajan in the film Kadalppalam. He has in his kitty, the rare distinction of rendering the most songs on a single day by any singer.
He had recorded 21 songs in Kannada for composer Upendra Kumar in Bangalore from 9am to 9pm on February 8, 1981 and 19 songs in Tamil, 16 songs in Hindi in a day which is a notable achievement and a record, which established a prolific career for him.
“There were days when I used to record 15–20 songs, but only for Anand-Milind. And I would take the last flight back to Chennai,” said SPB in an interview.
Balasubrahmanyam gained international recognition with the 1980 film Sankarabharanam, which is considered to be one of the best films ever to emerge from the Telugu film industry. Balasubrahmanyam began to record more songs in Tamil, especially for Ilaiyaraaja with S Janaki, the trio considered to be highly successful in the Tamil film industry from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
In 1989, Balasubrahmanyam was the playback singer for actor Salman Khan in his blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya. The film was a hit, and bagged him a Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song Dil Deewana.
For much of the next decade, he continued to be known as the “romantic singing voice” on the soundtracks of Khan’s films. Balasubrahmanyam’s duet with Lata Mangeshkar, Didi Tera Devar Deewana, was very popular. This solidified Balasubrahmanyam as one of the biggest playback singers in India.
SPB became identified as Salman Khan’s voice in the 90s just like Kishore Kumar became Rajesh Khanna’s voice through the 70s.
Balasubrahmanyam recorded three songs for A. R. Rahman in his debut film Roja. He had prolonged associations with Rahman right from Roja, the latter’s debut film.
In 2013, Balasubrahmanyam recorded the title song for Chennai Express, singing for the lead actor Shahrukh Khan, under the music direction of Vishal-Shekhar.
In May 2020, SPB crooned a song on humanity titled Bharath Bhoomi which was composed by Ilaiyaraaja as a tribute to the people such as police, army, doctors, nurses and janitors who have been significantly working amid Covid-19 pandemic.
The video song was officially unveiled by Ilaiyaraaja through his official YouTube account on 30 May 2020 in both Tamil and Hindi languages.
Balasubrahmanyam accidentally became a dubbing artist with K Balachander’s film Manmadha Leela, the dubbed Telugu version of Manmadha Leelai, providing voice-over for Kamal Haasan.
He has also provided voice-overs for various artists, including Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Vishnuvardhan, Salman Khan, K Bhagyaraj, Mohan, Anil Kapoor, Girish Karnad, Gemini Ganesan, Arjun Sarja, Nagesh, Karthik, and Raghuvaran in various languages.
Awards and Achievements
He has garnered six National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer for his works in four different languages; Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi, 25 Andhra Pradesh state Nandi Awards for his works towards Telugu cinema, numerous other state awards from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
In addition, he has also been honoured with the Filmfare Award, and six Filmfare Awards South. In 2012, he received the state NTR National Award for his contributions to Indian cinema.
In 2016, He was honored with the Indian Film Personality of the Year consisting of a Silver Peacock Medal. He is a recipient of civilian awards such as Padma Shri (2001) and Padma Bhushan (2011) from the Government of India.
Top songs by Balasubrahmanyam
• Nilaave Vaa Sellathey Vaa, Mouna Raagam
Nilaave Vaa Sellathey Vaa from Mani Ratnam’s blockbuster film, Mouna Raagam, is a timeless classic that you never tire of.
The soft romantic lyrics, with SPB’s soothing vocals, makes this one of his most memorable songs.
• Ilaiya Nilaa Pozhikirathe Ithayam Varai Nanaigirathe Ulaap Pogum Neram, Payanangal Mudivathillai
A foot-tapping melody, Ilaiya Nilaa Pozhikirathe from Payanangal Mudivathillai, featured on Mohan, is an absolute treat and an evergreen hit.
This fast-paced number became a massive hit and the tune was later reused in the Hindi song Neele Neele Ambar Par, sung by Kishore Kumar.
• Mannil Indha Kaathalandri Yaarum Vaazhdhal Koodumo, Keladi Kanmani
Written and directed by Vasanth, Keladi Kanmani was a huge box office success.
S P Balasubrahmanyam himself played the lead role in the film and his breathless number, Mannil Indha Kaathalandri, became one of the highlights of the film. SPB sang both the stanzas of the song, without taking a single breath.
• Thanga Thamarai Magale, Minsara Kanavu
While A R Rahman won the award for best music direction, SPB and K S Chitra bagged the best playback singer award for Thanga Thamarai Magale and Ooh La La La respectively.
• Tere Mere Beech Mein, Ek Duuje Ke Liye
K Balachander’s Ek Duuje Ke Liye, a film on cross-cultural romance, starring Kamal Haasan and Rati Agnihotri, broke all box office records and emerged as one of the biggest blockbusters of all time.
The film is considered a cult classic and SPB’s beautiful rendition of Tere Mere Beech Mein, accompanied by Lata Mangeshkar, won him a National Film Award.
• Dil Deewana, Maine Pyar Kiya
S P Balasubrahmanyam was the playback singer for Salman Khan’s romantic voice in Sooraj Barjatya’s blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya, which released in 1989 and is considered one of India’s highest grossing films.
The vocals of Lata Mangeshkar and SPB complemented each other perfectly, giving a whole new meaning to the sensational music composed by Ram Laxman and the intensely romantic lyrics by Dev Kohli.
• Vedam Anuvanuvuna, Saagara Sangamam
Saagara Sangamam, starring Kamal Haasan and Jayaprada, was another film directed by K Vishwanath that smashed all box office records. The film was later successfully dubbed in Tamil, as well as Malayalam.
Music and dance played a significant role in the film and both Ilaiyaraja and SPB won the National Award for their spectacular efforts.
SPB’s golden voice is simply mesmerising in Vedam Anuvanuvuna, bringing out a depth of emotion. S P Sailaja accompanies him in this song.
• Omkaara Naadaanusandhanam, Shankarabharanam
Written and directed by K Vishwanath, the film was a musical drama that brought back the era of Indian classical music in South India.
K V Mahadevan’s music was largely Carnatic, and all the compositions had heavy classical content. Though SPB is not a classically trained singer, he proved himself with his perfect rendition of Omkaara Naadaanusandhanam, the song that won him his first National Award.