K. J. Yesudas was born in Fort Kochi, in the erstwhile Kingdom of Cochin, into a Roman Catholic Latin Rite family to late Augustine Joseph and late Alicekutty. His father, who was a well-known Malayalam classical musician and stage actor, was his first guru. He started his academic music training at R.L.V. Music Academy, Thrippunithura. Later he studied at Swathi Thirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram under the tutelage of the carnatic music maestro late Sh. K.R.Kumaraswamy Iyer and the late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer but could not complete his studies due to financial constraints. For a brief period, he was with Sri Vechur Harihara Subramania Iyer, after which he took advanced training from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. In 2011 he completed his 50 years as a playback singer.
Completed the Ganabooshanam course at R.L.V. Music Academy, Thripunithura, Cochin Studied at Sree Swathithirunal Music Academy, Trivandrum under the tutelage of the carnatic music maestro late Sh. K.R.Kumaraswamy Iyer. Trained under K. R. Kumaraswamy Iyer (former principal of the Music College, Kochi), Thripunithura Shri K.C Kalyanasundaram Master, Kunjuvelan Aasan (a disciple of Nadaswara Vidwan Rajaratnam Pillai), Augustine Joseph (his father), V. Dakshinamoorthy, Ramankutti Bagavathar, Sivaraman Nayar, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar.
Yesudas sings Indian classical, devotional, and popular music. He has recorded more than 70,000 songs in many languages including Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Marathi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tulu, Malay, Russian, Arabic, Latin and English during a career spanning five decades. He has performed in most Indian languages except Assamese, Konkani and Kashmiri. He also composed a number of Malayalam film songs in the 1970s and 1980s. Yesudas is fondly called Gana Gandharvan (The Celestial Singer).
Yesudas has won the National Award for the Best Male Playback Singer seven times (the most by any Indian singer), 5 Filmfare Awards and the State Award for the Best Playback Singer 43 times, which consists of awards by the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1975 and the Padma Bhushan in 2002 by the Government of India for his contributions towards the arts. In 2011 Yesudas was honoured with the CNN-IBN outstanding achievement award having recorded over 50,000 songs in a five-decade career. In 2006, he sang 16 film songs in four South Indian languages on the same day at AVM Studio, Chennai.
The first song sung by Yesudas is Jaathi Bhedam Matha Dwesham (music: M B Sreenivasan) on 14 November 1961, which he usually sings on all the special occasions in front of the audience. Yesudas began his career in playback singing in the Malayalam movie Kaalpadukal and Tamil, Telugu and Kannada movies in the early 1960s.
He got the first break in his music career with the hit Malayalam film named Bharya ( music by G. Devarajan and lyrics by Vayalar Ramavarma). In 1967, he sang hit songs in the composition of M.S.Baburaj for the film Udhyogastha directed by P.Venu. He sang in Tamil for Bommai first (music: S. Balachander), but the first released movie was Konjum Kumari (music: Veda).
The trio of Salil, Yesudas and Prem Nazir (the evergreen hero of Malayalam Cinema) took the Malayalam Cinema Industry of the 1970s by storm. It was generally agreed that Yesudas's voice was the most suited one for Prem Nazir.
In 1970 he was nominated to head the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and was the youngest person ever to occupy the post.
On 9 December 1971, Yesudas missed a flight which later crashed on the way to Madurai. A Hawker Siddeley HS 748 near Chinnamanur was descending into Madurai in reduced visibility. It flew into high terrain about 50 mi (80 km) from the airport, killing the four crew members and 17 passengers.
By the 1970s Yesudas entered Bollywood. The first Hindi song he sang was for the movie Jai Jawan Jai Kissan (1971), but the first released movie was Chhoti Si Baat. He has sung Hindi songs for many leading actors in Hindi cinema including Amitabh Bachchan, Amol Palekar and Jeetendra. He has sung many evergreen Hindi film songs for music directors including Ravindra Jain, Bappi Lahiri, Khayyam, Rajkamal and Salil Chowdhury.
Yesudas's most popular Hindi songs are in the 1976 movie Chitchor, with music given by Ravindra Jain. The greatest tribute to Yesudas was paid by Ravindra Jain, in an interview wherein the blind music director confessed that if ever he happened to regain vision, the first person he would like to see would be Yesudas.
Yesudas has performed in many major cities around the world. In 1965, he was invited by the Soviet Union government to perform at music concerts in various cities in the USSR and also sang a Russian song over Radio Kazakhstan. Yesudas became one of the senate members in the International Parliament for Safety and Peace. On 14 November 1999, Yesudas was presented with an honorary award by UNESCO for "Outstanding Achievements in Music and Peace" at the "Music for Peace" event in Paris.a concert held to mark the dawn of the new millennium and whose attendees included artistes such as Lionel Richie, Ray Charles, Montserrat Caballé, and Zubin Mehta.
In 1971, during the Indo-Pakistani War, Yesudas travelled all around Kerala with his musical troupe to raise funds for the Indian prime minister's National Defense Fund.
In 2001 he sang for album Ahimsa in Sanskrit, Latin and English and in a mix of styles including new-age and Carnatic. In his music concerts in the Middle East he sings Arabic songs in the Carnatic style. He frequently serves as a cultural ambassador for India through his performances abroad, promoting Indian music.
In 2009 Yesudas began a cross-country musical campaign against terrorism in Thiruvananthapuram, with the motto 'Music For Peace'. Kavita Karkare, wife of Hemant Karkare, handed over the torch to Yesudas to mark the launch of the 'Shanthi Sangeetha Yatra'
Yesudas is married to Prabha. They have three sons, Vinod, Vijay and Vishal. Their second son Vijay Yesudas is a musician who won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer in 2007 and 2013. The family is currently settled in Chennai and Trivandrum. He also owns estates in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA and Flower Mound, Texas, USA for personal and business reasons.
Yesudas has been visiting Kollur Mookambika temple, Kollur, Karnataka on his birthday to sing keerthans of Saraswati devi, the Goddess of knowledge, music and the arts. The music festival started on his 60th birthday. The nine-day music festival begins every January at Kollur Mookambika Temple. On Sunday, 10 January 2010, he celebrated his 70th birthday (Sapthathi) at Kollur Sri Mookambika Temple with 'Sangeetharchana' (classical devotional songs), along with 70 singers before goddess Mookambika. The Sangeetharchana included "Pancharatna Gayana" of Thyagaraja's poems. He also took part in the Vidyarambha function. All India Radio broadcast the special Sangeetharchana all over Kerala. Yesudas also has many songs devoted to Lord Ayyappa including the hit song "Harivarasanam".
In 1980 Yesudas established the Tharangani Studio at Trivandrum. In 1992 the office and studio were moved to Chennai, Tamil Nadu and the company was incorporated in the US in 1998. Tharangni Studio and Tharangni Records became a recording center in Kerala which, for the first time, brought out audio cassettes of Malayalam film songs in stereo. The record company also had a voice mixing studio in Studio27, Chennai. The studio continues to produce and present events of Yesudas both for film and Indian classical music concerts throughout the world.
Yesudas has the rare feat of performing the classical concert for 36 times in the 36-year old Soorya Music festival organised by Soorya Krishnamoorthy. This is one among his concerts which is highly followed by serious musical lovers and often rated as the most popular among his concerts in India.
After winning the Kerala State Award for Best Playback singer on numerous occasions, he asked that he be ruled out of contention so as to give his peers and newcomers a chance of winning the award. Despite his request, he was still given this award several times in the following years.
Playback singer Unni Menon, who was singing track songs for other prominent singers, got a break when Yesudas, after hearing the track songs Unni Menon had sung for the Malayalam film Kadathu, asked the music director Shyam to record and release the songs as they were. Yesudas was of the opinion that the songs did not need to be rendered by him as Unni Menon had already done it well and there was no need for improvement.
Harivarasanam, a devotional song musical version composed by G. Devarajan, recited before closing the temple at Sabarimala was sung by Yesudas. Though there have been many different renditions of this song by many different renowned singers, Sabarimala officially uses Yesudas' voice for Harivarasanam every day.
Swaralaya Yesudas award is a prestigious award for music artists in recognition of their outstanding performance. The award is instituted jointly by Swaralaya, an organisation that promotes music and Kairali Channel, based in Trivandrum, Kerala. Awards have been given annually since 2000. Yesudas presents the awards at a Gandharva Sandhya every January.
Titles, honours and major awards
Padma Bhushan, 2002
Padma Shri, 1975
Honorary Doctorate by Annamalai University, Tamil Nadu in 1989.
Honorary Doctorate by Kerala University, Kerala in 2003.
Honorary Doctorate by Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala in 2009.
Asthana Gayakan (Official Singer) by Government of Kerala
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1992
Asthana Vidwan (Official Teacher) by Udupi, Sringeri, and Raghavendra mutts.
Sangeetha Sagaram (Music Ocean) in 1989.
Sangeetha Chakravarthy (Music Emperor) in 1988 by Pallavi Narasimachary.
Sangeetha Raja (Music King) by Chembai in 1974.
Sangeetha Ratna (Music Jewel) by Lt. Governor of Pondicherry M.M. Lakhera.
Swathi Ratnam (Swathi Jewel).
Sapthagiri Sangeetha Vidwanmani in 2002.
Bhakti Sangita Geetha Sironmani in 2002.
Gaana Gandharva by G. Sankara Kurup.
Geetanjali Award by The ex-president of India Neelam Sanjiva Reddy.
Sur Singar Samsad Award in 1976.
Kalaimamani Award by Government of Tamil Nadu.
Star of India Award by Lt. Governor of Pondicherry M.M. Lakhera.
National Citizens Award in 1994.
Mar Gregorius Award Governor RL Bhatia in 2006.
Kerala Ratna by Jaihind TV in 2008.
The Annual Latha Mangeshkar Award by Government of Madhya Pradesh in 1992.
Dr. Pinnamaneni and Seethadevi Foundation Award in 2000.
Senate member in the International Parliament for Safety and Peace, an organization incorporated in the United States.
An Honorary award for Outstanding Achievements in Music and Peace by UNESCO in 1999.
Ghantasala Melody King Award in 2005.
Sathyan Memorial Film Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2008.
Susheela National Music Award in 2009.
Jaycee Foundation Film Award for Best Singer in 2009.
Social Excellence Award in 2010.
Mirchi Awards for Best Singer and Lifetime Achievement in 2010.
Sree Chithira Thirunal Trust National Award in 2010.
Swaralaya - Eenam Award in 2010 - Decade's Best Talent in Malayalam Music
Symphony Award in 2010
Swathi Sangeetha Puraskaram in 2010, highest music award given by Government of Kerala
Jaihind TV Film Award 2010 for Best Male Playback Singer Award for the song Pinne Ennodonnum from the movie Shikkar.
Amrita-FEFKA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011.
Swaralaya-Devarajan Award in 2011
CNN-IBN Indian of the Year Award in 2011.
M. K. Raghavan Vakkeel Award, instituted by Sree Narayana Sangam in memory of M. K. Raghavan, former Labour Minister and S. N. Trust General Secretary, in 2012.
Harivarasanam Award, instituted by Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) in 2012.
SIIMA Lifetime Achievement Award, 2013.
Dynamic Man of the Millennium Award by K. G. Foundation in 2013.
Harmony Award by Marthoma Research Academy in 2013.
Special Award by Government of Kerala for his overall contributions in diverse fields.
National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer
Holds the record of 7 time winner of National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer, the most by any Male Playback Singer.
1993, Film Name: Sopanam, Language: Malayalam, Song: All Songs
1991, Film Name: Bharatham, Language: Malayalam, Song: Ramakadha Gaanalayam
1987, Film Name: Unnikale Oru Kadha Parayam, Language: Malayalam, Song: Unnikale Oru Kadha Parayam
1982, Film Name: Meghasandesam, Language: Telugu, Song: Aakasa Desana Aashada Masaana
1976, Film Name: Chitchor, Language: Hindi, Song: Gori Tera Gaon Bada
1973, Film Name: Gaayathri, Language: Malayalam, Song: Padmatheerthame Unaru
1972, Film Name: Achanum Bappayum, Language: Malayalam, Song: Manushyan Mathangale
Kerala State Film Awards
01 - 1969 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
02 - 1970 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
03 - 1971 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
04 - 1973 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
05 - 1974 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
06 - 1975 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
07 - 1976 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
08 - 1977 - Best Playback Singer - Jagathguru Adisankaran
09 - 1979 - Best Playback Singer - Ulkkadal
10 - 1980 - Best Playback Singer - Mela, Manjil Virinja Pookkal, Angadi
11 - 1981 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
12 - 1982 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
13 - 1983 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
14 - 1984 - Best Playback Singer - Swantham Sharika
15 - 1985 - Best Playback Singer - Various Films
16 - 1986 - Best Playback Singer - Nakhakshathangal
17 - 1993 - Best Playback Singer - Aakashadooth, Padheyam, Chenkol
18 - 1994 - Best Playback Singer - Parinayam
19 - 1995 - Best Playback Singer - No. 1 Snehatheeram Banglore North, Mazhayethum Munpe, Punnaram
20 - 1996 - Best Playback Singer - Desadanam, Thooval Kottaram
21 - 1997 - Best Playback Singer - Aaraam Thampuran
22 - 1998 - Best Playback Singer - Ayal Kadha Ezhuthukayanu
23 - 2001 - Best Playback Singer - Ravanaprabhu
24 - 2002 - J. C. Daniel Award - Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding contributions to Malayalam Cinema
25 - 2009 - Best Playback Singer - Madhya Venal
Andhra Pradesh State Film Awards
2006- Best Playback Singer - Ganga
1990- Best Playback Singer - Alludugaru
1988- Best Playback Singer - Jeevana Jyothi
1982- Best Playback Singer - Meghasandesam
Tamil Nadu State Film Awards
1992- Best Playback Singer - Mannan
1989- Best Playback Singer - Nyaya Tharasu
1988- Best Playback Singer - Various Films
1982- Best Playback Singer - Moondram Pirai
1977- Best Playback Singer - Andaman Kathali, Maduraiyai Meeta Sundara Pandian
Karnataka State Film Awards
1986- Best Playback Singer - Malaya Marutha
1991- Best Playback Singer - Ramachari
1996- Best Playback Singer - Sipaayi
Filmfare Awards South
2009 - Best Playback Singer (Malayalam) - Pazhassi Raja
2008 - Best Playback Singer (Malayalam) - Madampi
2006 - Best Playback Singer (Malayalam) - Vadakkumnadhan
2003 - Lifetime Achievement Award
1980 - Best Playback Singer - Dada
Vanitha Film Awards
2009 - Lifetime Achievement Award
2009 - Best Playback Singer - Pazhassi Raja
Asianet Film Awards
2008 - Lifetime Achievement Award
2000 - Best Playback Singer - Devadoothan
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