Iconic Indian singer S.P. Balasubrahmanyam dies after two months of treatment for Covid-19

S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, 74, died in a Chennai hospital on Sept 25, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

BANGALORE - Legendary Indian singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam died in a Chennai hospital on Friday (Sept 25) after two months of treatment for Covid-19.

The hospital said the 74-year-old singer died of a cardio-respiratory arrest.

Balasubrahmanyam, lovingly called SPB in India, recorded over 40,000 songs for films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Malayalam. Often, he cited a Guinness World Record for the largest number of songs recorded.

Minutes after the news of his death broke, music composer A. R. Rahman tweeted a single word: "Devastated". Later, he shared an audio snippet of SPB's soaring voice, and wrote: "The voice of victory, love, devotion and joy!"

Over a 50-year career, the versatile singer's robust voice went with ease from flirtatious, enthusiastic, folksy, restrained and pained to enraged. He remained a prominent singer even as newer generations of music composers emerged.

SPB was often roped in to sing the most powerful and heroic numbers in Tamil superstar Rajnikanth's films and was also the singing voice of Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan. His tinkling laughs and signature exclamations in between lines became much-adored flourishes.

Born in Nellore in Andhra Pradesh to theatre artists, and one of seven siblings, Balasubrahmanyam began performing film and devotional songs in concerts at a young age.

S. P. Balasubrahmanyam with then Indian President Pradibha Singh Patil during the Padma Awards presentation ceremony at the Presidential House in New Delhi on March 24, 2011. PHOTO: AFP

His first playback song in a film was in Telugu, his mother tongue, in 1967. Emi Ee Vintha Moham is a duet with P. Susheela. He broke into the Tamil film industry a few years later with a knockout song in Adimai Penn, which was headlined by megastar and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M. G. Ramachandran.

Although untrained in classical music, SPB's earliest hits were in movies like Shankarabharanam (1980) that celebrated Carnatic music. It also earned him a National Award, the first of many. He won another for his first Hindi song in the 1981 love story Ek Duuje Ke Liye starring Tamil actor Kamal Haasan.

SPB also did a few cameos, but is best remembered for playing a middle-aged single father in the musical Keladi Kanmani (1990).

The singer was admitted to MGM Healthcare on Aug 5 after he experienced chest congestion. As prayers and wishes poured in, he released a video assuring everyone that he was getting well fast.

On Sept 5, he tested negative for the coronavirus but his health took a turn for the worse on Thursday. He is survived by his wife, daughter Pallavi and son S. P. B. Charan, also a playback singer and producer.

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