It was with utter disbelief that the world received the shocking news of the demise of S.P. Balasubramanyam arguably the greatest singer of popular music our country has ever produced. He could also sing Carnatic music if the role demanded e.g Thyagayya and Annamayya.

He was admitted to a hospital in Chennai for treatment of COVID 19 on August 5. He seemed to be on the road to recovery but took a turn for the worse and died due to cardiac arrest and respiratory failure, on September 25th. He was 74.

He sang 40000 songs in a career spanning 55 years. It dwarfs the achievements of any singer of the western world –Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and Elvis Presley just to name a few.

S.P.  Balasubramanyam – SPB -for short,  just three letters in the alphabet, could together simply cast a mesmerising spell on the country’s millions of music lovers. Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubramanyam also affectionately called”; Balu” by all his relatives,  close friends, and the film fraternity was born in Nellore, to orthodox Brahmin parents on June 4th 1946. He had seven siblings. Though he developed an interest in music at an early age, he wanted to take up a career in Engineering and joined the JNTU College of Engineering in Anantapur. However, he kept his interest in music alive and experimented with light songs. He won many prizes in singing competitions. As his enthusiasm for becoming a  singer grew, he was first encouraged by the veteran singer P.B. Srinivas. This convinced him that he was better suited for pursuing a career in music.

S.P. Balasubramanyam opened his long innings with a song in Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramana, in 1966. His early hits were duets with the renowned lady playback singer Susheela. He captured the attention of music lovers with the duet” Ayiram Nilave Va, he sang” in the film Adimai Penn’ with Susheela. From then on his career took off in a big way and there was no looking back.

As reported in the Hindu

” He also won the Guinness World Record for recording the highest number of songs by a singer.

He bagged six National Film Awards for Best Male Playback Singer for his songs in four different languages (Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, and Hindi), as well as 25 Andhra Pradesh state Nandi Awards for his work in Telugu cinema, apart from numerous other state awards from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

In addition, he also garnered six Filmfare Awards. In 2012, he received the state NTR National Award for his contributions to Indian cinema. In 2016, he was honoured with the Indian Film Personality of the Year consisting of a Silver Peacock Medal.

SPB was a recipient of civilian awards Padma Shri (2001) and Padma Bhushan (2011).” 

Balasubramanyam’s voice was basically melodious and lilting. But he possessed a unique talent. When he sang for a particular actor, he could modulate his own voice to make it sound like that actor”s. For example in the movie ” Manushulanta Okate” he sang the song” Mutyalu” in the voice of Allu Ramalingaiah, with the latter having to only move his lips in synchrony. 

Besides this he was versatile. He sang in about  16 languages, but mainly in Telugu, Tamil, Malayam, Kannada, and Hindi. He was the voice for Salman Khan in “Hum Aapke Hain Kaun”. He occasionally did a cameo role in films. A mention may be made of his role in Mani Ratnam’s Tamil superhit “Thiruda Thiruda” as a CBI officer.

Even though he was extremely busy as the hero’s playback singer in 4 languages, he found time to take part in the music programmes on Television. He took an active part in ETV’s  ” Swarabhiskekam” in which he sang either solo or duets with lady singers like Sunitha, Harini, Malavika and few others. I remember a programme in which Sri Ramachandra and Sunitha sang the duet “vinnanule Priya” sung by Ghantasala and Susheela in the film ” Bandipotu dongalu”. When they finished singing,  Balasubramanyam got up from his chair, and told the audience that the Tamil version of the song was sung by Susheela and Sounderarajan in the Tamil movie ” nenjirukkumvarai”. Even though he sang only two lines in Tamil, the audience was enthralled, by the sheer melody. 

Another similar programme on Television in which SPB played a very major role is Padutha Teeyaga. The main objective of the programme which was the first of its kind and which was launched in 1996 is to spot talented youngsters and shape them into good playback singers in Telugu movies. It has now completed more than 1000

In the programme also he would either sing solo or enthusiastically join upcoming singers in duets to encourage them. On completion of the song, he would praise the singer and politely suggest any improvement if he found it to be necessary. In this way, all aspiring young singers would eagerly look forward to getting an opportunity to take part in the programme.

As the prime mover, SPB orchestrated the show in his own inimitable style bringing the show popularity and prestige. His confident appearance on stage clutching the mike made one recollect, Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr or Dean Martin in the prime of their majestic musical careers. 

He could also act very well mainly in humorous roles. One movie that readily comes to my mind is”  Mithunam” in which he acts as an old man with the actress Lakshmi playing the role of his wife. The scene in which he sings naming the various vegetables, and dishes, even as Lakshmi is cooking is riotous. The song is “Avakaimana” which is substituted for the word ” Brindavanamadi” in the film Missamma.

Occasionally he did a cameo role in films. I can readily recollect his role as a CBI officer in the Tamil superhit “Thiruda Thiruda” directed by Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Verma.

When he died, there was an outpouring of grief on a scale never seen before–singers Yesudas, Lata Mangeshkar,  Susheela, Janaki, and Mano, senior actors Rajinikanth, Kamala Hasan, Chiranjeevi, Pawan Kalyan, Krishna, and Rajendra Prasad, and other prominent personalities of the film industry like  A.R. Rehman, Ali, Raghavender Rao, and Bharati Raja, and many others expressed their grief. A special mention must be made of the moving sentiments expressed by Chiranjeevi. He said that when the late Ghantasala had died,  the film industry felt there was nobody to replace him Then Balasubramanyam came. Chiranjeevi opined that nobody is now there to take SPB’s place. According to him there never will be another. His demise has created a void nobody can fill. Only Balu must be reborn to fill the vacuum. 

BBC made a special announcement of his death mentioning his stature and popularity as a singer. 

Balasubramanyam  was our  Mukesh, Mohd Rafi, Talat Mehmood and Kishore Kumar rolled in one- such was his range and versatility 

The mellifluous voice of beloved Balu will live, as haunting melodies for all filmgoers as background music, for thousands of students preparing for their examinations, and as auditory foreplay for romantic  Indian couples throughout the country as well as abroad.


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