Legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam no more

Legendary playback singer SP Balasubrahmanyam, known popularly as SPB, passed away at a private hospital at 1pm in Chennai on Friday, at the age of 74.

He was hospitalised in August at MGM Healthcare after testing positive for COVID-19, and while he reportedly did well initially, he took a turn for the worse, and was put on a ventilator and ECMO support.

On September 7, he tested negative for COVID-19 but continued to be on ventilator.

Balasubrahmanyam, who has to his credit over 40,000 songs, has sung in languages including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi.

He won 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 work in Telugu cinema, and numerous other state awards from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Balasubrahmanyam was also a recipient of the Padma Shri (2001) and Padma Bhushan (2011) from the Government of India.

Balasubrahmanyam 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.

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. Directed by K. Vishwanath, the film’s soundtrack was composed by K.V. Mahadevan, and led to an increase in the usage of Carnatic music in Telugu cinema.

His first work in Hindi films was in the following year, in Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981), for which he received another National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer.

Balasubrahmanyam had recorded 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 the blockbuster Maine Pyar Kiya. 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. Critics observed that SP Balasubrahmanyam 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 a long time association with Rahman right from Roja, the latter’s debut film.

He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter — both are playback singers.