SP Balasubrahmanyam: The voice that captivated millions will never be stilled

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on September 25, 2020

S P Balasubramanyam   -  THE HINDU

SP Balasubrahmanyam was a prodigious singer who channelled rare artistry in several languages

Legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam — fondly known as ‘SPB’ or ‘Balu’ — whose evergreen voice reigned over Indian cinema for more than five decades, passed away here on Friday. hE was admitted to a private hospital last month for Covid-19 treatment.

He was 74 and is survived by his wife Savitri, daughter Pallavi and son SPB Charan, who is also a playback singer and producer.

Also read: Playback singer S P Balasubrahmanyam is no more

Born on June 4, 1946 at Konetammapeta village in Andhra Pradesh’s Nellore district, Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam (SPB) was the second son in a family of three sons and five daughters. A gifted singer, SPB studied musical notations and learned to play the harmonium and the flute while listening to his father, SP Sambamurthy, an established Harikatha exponent. While his father wanted SPB to become an engineer, destiny had other plans.

Spotting his talent in a music competition organised by the Chennai-based Telugu Cultural Organisation, music director SP Kodandapani introduced him in Telugu film Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna in 1966; it changed his fortune. In a mark of respect to his mentor, SPB would name his recording studio and his film company after Kodandapani in later years.

The big break

Even so, with just 3-4 songs in Telugu and Kannada to his credit, SPB could ordinarily not have aspired for greater glory. But a chance encounter with actor and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MG Ramachandran (MGR) led him on that path.


Impressed by SPB’s rendition of a song on the sets of AVM Studio, MGR wanted the young singer to sing for him. SPB’s Aayiram Nilavae Vaa for MGR in Adimaippenn in 1969 marked the arrival of a youthful and energetic singer at a time when TM Soundararajan (TMS) ruled the roost. In the same year, he sang Iyarkai Ennum Ilaya Kanni in Gemini Ganesan’s Shanti Nilayam.

While SPB worked with legendary music composers like MS Viswanathan (MSV) and KV Mahadevan, the entry of Ilaiyaraaja in Tamil cinema changed his fortune — and theirs too — forever. SPB and Ilaiyaraaja, along with S Janaki, emerged as a highly successful trio; they went on to rule the Tamil cinema from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and even till the early 1990s.

S P Balasubrahmanyam

Every actor’s voice

More than 1,000 credits including India’s highest civilian awards such as Padma Shri (2001) and Padma Bhushan (2011) are testimony to SPB’s illustrious musical career. SPB also holds the Guinness Record for having the most number of song recordings by any singer, with over 40,000 renditions in 16 languages.

From the melodious Naanaga Naan Illai Thaye for Kamal Haasan to the signature Super Staru Yaarunu Ketta for Rajinikanth, there is not a single star worth his name in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and even Hindi industry for whom SPB has not lent his voice at least once.

A music composer himself, with more than 45 films to his credit, SPB also worked with young composers like Vidyasagar, SA Rajkumar, Deva and, very recently, with Anirudh Ravichander, for Rajinikanth’s Petta and Darbar.

Many awards to his name

While the SPB-Ilaiyarajaa combo ruled the 1980s and early 1990s, the versatile singer paired up with younger musicians subsequently. He recorded three songs for AR Rahman in his debut film Roja, including the evergreen melody Kaadhal Rojavae. In fact, of the six National Awards for male playback singer that SPB bagged, the sixth and only one in Tamil as for Thanga Thamarai Magalae in Minsara Kanavu, composed by Rahman.

His other National Awards include three for Telugu, one for Kannada and one for his Hindi debut song, Tere Mere Beech Mein, from Ek Duuje Ke Liye.

For millions of inconsolable music fans across the world, perhaps the only consolation lies in SPB’s own soulful song from Udaya Geetham. Enthan Moochum Intha Paatum Anaiyaa Vilakke..Kelaai Poo Manamae’ (My breath and this song are like a lamp that never turns off. Oh listen, gentle heart!),” he sang.

Published on September 25, 2020

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