While the legend passes on, his voice remains immortal

Venkat Raman

Venkat Raman

Auckland, September 26, 2020

A tribute our dear friend S P Balasubrahmanyam

The then New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark with SPB and his wife Savitri at Logan Campbell Centre on February 23, 2008

There is a way to live and a way to become a source of endearment.

Dr Sripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam (endeared to millions of people simply as ‘SP’ or ‘Balu’ did both with dignity and honour.

He was 74 years old when he breathed his last yesterday (Friday, September 25, 2020) at the MGM Healthcare in Chennai. An official statement said that he died of cardio-respiratory arrest.

He left behind his wife Savitri and their daughter Pallavi and son SPB Charan.

Although diagnosed Covid-19 when he was admitted to the hospital on August 5, 2020, Balu recovered from the Virus and declared ‘negative,’ but continued with the medical attention for other issues.

Soon as Covid-19 hit India, SP composed music for a special song on ‘Corona’ written by Kaviyarasu Vairamuthu in Tamil. He sang the song with overwhelming emotion. You can listen to the song here:

His mortal remains were taken to his farmhouse in Red Hills on the outskirts of Chennai last night and will laid to rest at 1030 am (IST) today (about 430 pm NZT).

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said that SP will be laid to rest with full Police Honours.

Group prayers for recovery worldwide

Thousands of groups prayed for his recovery all over the world and as the news of his death was known, among the first to express their grief were national leaders, Chief Ministers and film industry leaders of almost all the States in India, famous film stars, producers, directors and musicians.

We have received hundreds of messages from our readers mourning the passing of their ‘Dear SP.’

Leaders mourn SP

President Ram Nath Kovind said that in the passing of music legend SP Balasubrahmanyam, Indian music has lost one of its most melodious voices.

“Called ‘Paadum Nila’ or ‘Singing Moon’ by his countless fans, he was honoured with Padma Bhushan and many National Awards. Condolences to his family, friends and admirers,” he said.

Vice President Venkaiah Naidu said that SP left a void in the world of music that is virtually impossible to fill. “His mellifluous voice, passionate love for languages and literature and genial humour have left an indelible impact on millions of admirers, including me. It is a personal tragedy for me as we both belong to Nellore. My heartfelt condolences to his family,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that in the death of SP, our cultural world is a lot poorer.’

“A household name across India, his melodious voice and music enthralled audiences for decades. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with his family and admirers,” he tweeted.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said that he was “deeply saddened by the passing away of legendary musician and playback singer Padma Bhushan, SP Balasubrahmanyam ji. He will forever remain in our memories through his melodious voice and unparalleled music compositions. My condolences are with his family and followers,” he tweeted.

Humane and pious

As a person raised in the family of the late Bharata Ratna Dr M S Subbulakshmi, I have observed a similarity of humaneness, commitment to the profession and inimitable piety that lifts the soul and spirit of singers and their listeners.

As a journalist who has met and interviewed him and a number of artistes of his ilk, I have learnt that passion for music transforms a human being to a higher plane of cultural and moral rectitude.

As Ilango Krishnamoorthy (Managing Director of Mercury Printz and Managing Trustee of the New Zealand Hindu Temple Society) said, “SP was very humble, understanding and forgiving. He took every disappointment in his stride. He raised his voice only to sing, never to rebuke anyone,” he said.

SP seldom failed to honour famous music directors of the Tamil film industry such as G Ramanathan, S V Venkataraman, K V Mahadevan and Viswanathan-Ramamurthy and say, “These legends have pave the way for film music and strengthened it. Singers and other music directors are today travelling on that road in Mercedes Benz and BMW,” he said.

    

S P Balasubrahmanyam performing with Mallikarjun, Gopika and Sailaja in Auckland on February 23, 200

Remarkable singing career

SP was an artiste par excellence, and with more than 40,000 songs in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, and many other languages, he has a place of pre-eminence in the Guinness Book of Records.

Rare achievements do not end there. He recorded 21 songs in Kannada in 12 hours on a single day (February 8, 1981), for composer Upendra Kumar; later, he recorded 19 songs in Tamil and 16 songs in Hindi, both in a day on separate occasions.

More, he has a place of permanence in the hearts of millions of men and women across the globe, with the credit for having moved them to rock in rhapsody or cry in sympathy or sorrow. Such is the power of his voice that he evokes emotions of humankind in tune with the vicissitudes.

One of the little known facts is that ‘Balu,’ as he is affectionately called in the industry, was the leader of a light music group in the late 1960s, in which Ilayaraja, who was to become a musical legend later, his older and younger brothers Bhaksar and Gangai Amaran were instrumentalists. 

 
The then Prime Minister Helen Clark speaking at the Concert at Logan Campbell Centre on February 23, 2008, watched by S P Balasubrahmanyam. Behind her is Ilango Krishnamoorthy

Unique playback artiste

SP was perhaps one of the luckiest in the South Indian film industry to have lent his voice to the legendary M G Ramachandran for Adimai Penn (1969).

Several films in the four major South Indian languages (another record) followed but it was in 1979 when Sankarabharanam, one of the greatest movies of all times was released that singer SP arrived.

It was said in those days that anyone who did not cry listening to his songs in the film, had either no sense of music or a heart of compassion.

Even as his prowess was being proved, producer-director K Balachander insisted on music directors Laxmikant Pyarelal to have him sing for Kamala Hasan in Ek Duuje Ke Liye (1981). The rise of the artiste in the Hindi film industry thereafter was tempered by his selective approach.

There are hundreds of Hindi film songs that have catapulted him and the concerned films to fame but among the notables in my view are Maine Pyar Kiya, Andaz Apna Apna, Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and Junoon.

Awards and Citations

In 2001, the Indian government honoured him with the ‘Padma Sri’ award for his contribution to music and followed with Padma Bhushan in 2011. He is also a recipient of a number of national and state awards given by public and private organisations and the Andhra Pradesh government.

Many other governments and associations around the world with awards and citations in his career that spanned 54 years.

Programme in Auckland

New Zealanders were fortunate to listen to the lilting voice of SP at a programme held in Auckland on February 23, 2008 at Logan Campbell Centre. He was accompanied by his sister S P Sailaja and other popular singers Gopika Purnima and Mallikharjuna Rao and a 12-piece orchestra.

The then Prime Minister Helen Clark was the Chief Guest at the Programme, promoted by Indian Newslink and Radio Tarana. While we have promoted hundreds of events over the year, this musical evening remains fresh in our memory.

We will shortly post another tribute in memory of S P Balasubrahmanyam.

Auckland event pictures by Preetam Thakur

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