S. P. Balasubrahmanyam

S. P. Balasubrahmanyam
Background information
Birth nameSripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam
Also known asGaana Gandharva, Paadum Nila[1]
Born4 June 1946
NelloreAndhra PradeshIndia[2][3][4][5]
Died25 September 2020 (aged 74)
ChennaiTamil NaduIndia
Occupation(s)Singeractormusic directorvoice actorproducer
Years active1966–2020
Honours Padma Vibhushan (2021) (posthumously)Padma Bhushan (2011)Padma Shri (2001)

Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam (4 June 1946 – 25 September 2020), also referred to as SPB or SP Balu or Balu, was an Indian playback singer, television presenter, actor, music composer, dubbing artist, and film producer.[6][7] He is widely regarded as one of the greatest Indian singers of all time.[8][9][10] He predominently worked in TeluguTamilKannadaMalayalam, and Hindi films and sang in a total of 16 languages.[11]

S. P. Balasubrahmanyam debuted as a playback singer on 15 December 1966 with the Telugu film Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna scored by his mentor, S. P. Kodandapani.[7][12] In career spanning over five decades, he has won six National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer for his works in four different languages – Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Hindi; 25 Andhra Pradesh state Nandi Awards for his work in Telugu cinema; and numerous other state awards from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu governments.[13][14] In addition, he won six Filmfare Awards South and a Filmfare Award.[15] According to some sources, he held the Guinness World Record for recording the highest number of songs by a singer with over 50,000 songs in 16 languages.[11][16][7][17] On 8 February 1981, he created a record by recording 27 songs in Kannada from 9 am to 9 pm. In addition, he recorded 19 songs in Tamil, and 16 songs in Hindi in a day, which has also been called a record.[7]

In 2012, he received the state NTR National Award for his contributions to Indian cinema.[18] In 2015, he received the Harivarasanam Award from the Government of Kerala.[19] In 2016, he was honoured with the Indian Film Personality of the Year award at the 47th International Film Festival of India.[20][21][22] He was a recipient of the Padma Shri (2001), Padma Bhushan (2011), and Padma Vibhushan (posthumously) (2021) from the Government of India.[23][24]

On 25 September 2020, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam died in Chennai after being hospitalized for over a month for complications due to COVID-19.[25]

Early life and background[edit]

Balasubrahmanyam in 1985

Balasubrahmanyam was born in Nellore, in present-day Andhra Pradesh into a Telugu Brahmin family.[21][26][27] His father, S. P. Sambamurthy, was a Harikatha artist who also acted in plays.[28] His mother was Sakunthalamma, who died on 4 February 2019.[29] He had two brothers and five sisters, including singer S. P. Sailaja.[30][31][32] His son S. P. Charan is also a popular South Indian singer, actor and producer.[33]

Balasubrahmanyam developed an interest in music at an early age, studied musical notations and learned music. He enrolled at the JNTU College of Engineering Anantapur with the intention of becoming an engineer. He often said that, at the time his only dream was to fulfil his father’s ambition and become an engineer and get a government job.[34][35]

Balasubrahmanyam continued to pursue music during his engineering studies and won awards at singing competitions. He discontinued his studies early due to typhoid and joined as an associate member of the Institution of Engineers, Chennai.[36][37] In 1964, he won the first prize in a music competition for amateur singers organized by the Madras-based Telugu Cultural Organization.

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).[38] He was selected as the best singer in a singing competition which was judged by S. P. Kodandapani and Ghantasala.[39][40] Often visiting music composers seeking opportunities, his first audition song was “Nilave Ennidam Nerungadhe”. It was rendered by veteran playback singer P. B. Sreenivas, who used to write and give him multi-lingual verses in TeluguTamilHindiKannadaMalayalamSanskrit, English and Urdu.[41]

Music career[edit]

See also: S. P. Balasubrahmanyam discography


SP Balasubrahmanyam and his wife being felicitated by K. J. Yesudas and his wife

Balasubrahmanyam debuted as a playback singer on 15 December 1966 with the song ‘Emiyee Vinta Moham’ for Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna, a Telugu film scored by his mentor, S. P. Kodandapani.[35][42][12] The first non-Telugu song that he recorded just eight days after his debut Telugu song was in Kannada in 1966 for the film Nakkare Ade Swarga, starring Kannada comedy stalwart T. R. Narasimharaju.[43][44] He recorded his first Tamil song “Athaanodu Ippadi Irundhu Eththanai Naalaachu”, a duet with L. R. Eswari under the musical direction of M. S. Viswanathan for the film Hotel Ramba, which never released. The song “Medante Meda Kaadu” from the film Sukha Dukhalu (1968) composed by Kondandapani brought him recognition in Telugu cinema.[45]

Other early songs he sang were duets with P. Susheela, “Iyarkai Ennum Ilaya Kanni” in the 1969 film Shanti Nilayam, starring Gemini Ganesh, and “Aayiram Nilavae Vaa” for M. G. Ramachandran in Adimaippenn.[46] His first song with S. Janaki was “Pournami Nilavil Pani Vizhum Iravil” in Kannippenn. He was then introduced to the Malayalam film industry by G. Devarajan in the film Kadalppalam.[47] As per Balasubrahmanyam, “Ye Divilo Virisina Parijathamo” from the 1973 Telugu film Kannevayasu composed by Satyam gave an amazing turning point to his singing career.[48]

Balasubrahmanyam had the distinction of rendering the most songs on a single day by any singer.[49] He had recorded 21 songs in Kannada for the composer Upendra Kumar in Bangalore from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on 8 February 1981 and 19 songs in Tamil, 16 songs in Hindi in a day.[50] In his words, “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.”[51][52] In the 1970s, he also worked with M. S. Viswanathan in Tamil movies for actors such as M. G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan. He recorded duets with P. SusheelaS. JanakiVani Jayaram and L. R. Eswari. Balasubrahmanyam’s association with Ilaiyaraaja began even before Ilaiyaraaja came to the cine field. In the early days, he used to sing in towns and villages all over south India and Ilaiyaraaja, then an unknown harmonium and guitar player accompanied him in his concerts.[53]


Balasubrahmanyam came to international prominence with the 1980 film Sankarabharanam. The film is considered to be one of the best films ever to emerge from the Telugu film industry.[54] Directed by K. Viswanath, the film’s soundtrack was composed by K. V. Mahadevan and led to an increase in the usage of Carnatic music in Telugu cinema as well as in other languages. Not a classically trained singer, he used a “film music” aesthetic in recording the songs.[55] Balasubrahmanyam received his first National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for his work. His first work in Hindi films was in the following year, in Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981),[56] for which he received another National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer.[14]

Balasubrahmanyam began to record more songs in Telugu and other South Indian languages, 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. The songs were based on classical music, such as in Saagara Sangamam (1983) and Rudraveena (1988), for which both Ilaiyaraaja and Balasubrahmanyam won National Awards for Best Music Director and Best Male Playback Singer respectively.[57] South Indian actor Chiranjeevi admits that ”’SPB”’ voice is one of the main reasons of his success.[58]

In 1989, Balasubrahmanyam was the playback singer for actor Salman Khan in the blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya.[59] The soundtrack for the film was very successful and he won a Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song Dil Deewana. For much of the next decade, Balasubrahmanyam continued as the “romantic singing voice” on the soundtracks of Khan’s films.[60] Notable among these was Hum Aapke Hain Koun..! which became the highest-grossing Hindi film of all time.[61] 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.[62] SP Balasubrahmanyam became identified as Salman Khan’s voice in the 90s just like Kishore Kumar became Rajesh Khanna‘s voice through the 70s.[63][64]


S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and K. S. Chitra performing at Celebrating 50 years of musical journey of S. P. Balasubrahmanyam on 9 December 2016 at Duty Free Tennis Stadium, Dubai

In the 1990s, he worked with composers such as VidyasagarM. M. KeeravaniHamsalekhaS. A. Rajkumar and Deva among others, but his association with A.R.Rahman turned out be a major success.[65]

Balasubrahmanyam recorded three songs for A. R. Rahman in the latter’s debut film Roja. He had a long-time association with Rahman right from Roja. Other popular songs include “July Maadham” from Pudhiya Mugam, which also marked the debut of singer Anupama,[66] “Mannoothu Manthayilae” from Kizhakku Cheemayile which was a folk number and he almost sang all songs in the musical love story Duet and “Thanga Thaamarai” from Minsara Kanavu which fetched him, the sixth and latest of his National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer to date.[67][68]

Balasubrahmanyam’s association with Hamsalekha began after the latter’s successful venture Premaloka in Kannada. Balasubrahmanyam sang the most songs for Hamsalekha in Kannada. He received his fourth National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Umandu Ghumandu” from the Kannada film Ganayogi Panchakshari Gavayi (1995), which was a Hindustani classical music-based composition by Hamsalekha.[57]


SPB performing in Singapore in 2017 while on world tour titled SPB 50 to commemorate 50 years of his singing career

In 2013, Balasubrahmanyam recorded the title song for Chennai Express, singing for the lead actor Shah Rukh Khan, under the music direction of Vishal–Shekhar, breaking his 15-year hiatus from Hindi cinema music.[69]

SPB is the only singer having a long spanning career of 54 years having at least two songs to record per day, even in his last days.[70]

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, doctors, nurses and janitors who have been significantly working amid COVID-19 pandemic.[71] The video song was officially unveiled by Ilaiyaraaja through his official YouTube account on 30 May 2020 in both Tamil and Hindi languages.

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *