Born: September 16, 1916
Died: December 11, 2004
Achievements: Famous for rendering devotional songs; called as
Nightingale of India; recipient of Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan, Ramon
Magsaysay Award, and Bharat Ratna
MS Subbulakshmi was a legendary Carnatic musician. She was popularly known
as Nightingale of India. Her rendering of bhajans (devotional songs) was
divine and used to enthrall and transfix listeners, and transport them
into a different world
MS Subbulakshmi (Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi) was born as Kunjamma
in the temple city of Madurai on September 16, 1916. She was born into
a family of musicians. Her grandmother Akkammal played the violin and
her mother was a veena artist.
MS Subbulakshmi started learning Carnatic music from a very early age.
She made her debut as a singer at the age of eight and went on to perform
in concerts, a domain traditionally reserved for males. She began her
Carnatic classical music training under Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and
then Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas.
By the age of 17, Subbulakshmi was giving concerts on her own,
including major performances at the Madras Music Academy, the
prestigious center for the study and promotion of Carnatic music. In
1940, she married T. Sadasivam, a freedom fighter, and a follower of
Rajaji. He played a key role in advancing her career.
She also acted in a few Tamil films in her youth. Her first movie "Sevasadanam"
was released in 1938. MS Subbulakshmi also played the male role of
Narada in "Savitri" (1941) to raise money for launching Kalki,
her husband's nationalist Tamil weekly. Her title role of the Rajasthani
saint-poetess Meera in the eponymous film (1945) gave her national
prominence. This movie was re-made in Hindi in 1947. The movie had M.S
Subbulakshmi. sing the famous Meera bhajans, with Dilipkumar Roy as the
music director. Those renditions by M.S. continue to haunt listeners to
this day. Following the success of the film she quit films and turned
wholly to concert music.
MS Subbulakshmi traveled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and
other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at Carnegie
Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966; the Royal Albert
Hall, London in 1982; and at the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987 were
significant landmarks in her career.
MS Subbulakshmi received many honours and awards. These include Padma Bhushan in 1954, Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968 (She
was the first woman recipient of the title), Ramon Magsaysay award in
1974, the Padma Vibhushan in 1975, the Kalidasa Samman in 1988, the Indira
Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990, and the Bharat Ratna in
1998. She was also honored as the court-singer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.
After the death of her husband Sadasivam in 1997, MS Subbulakshmi
stopped all her public performances. She had no children. MS
Subbulakshmi died on December 11, 2004 after a brief illness.