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‘Sur Samrata’ ‘Gana Gandharvan’ Kattassery Dr. K.J. Yesudas.

Music came as divine grace and paternal inheritance to K.J. Yesudas, one of India's foremost exponents of classical carnatic vocal music and leading playback singer in all Indian languages. His classical concerts and film music concerts continue to captivate millions of listeners at home and abroad.

Kattassery Joseph Yesudas was born on January 10th 1940 in Fort Kochi, the ancient port city of Kerala. His father Augustine Joseph was himself a well-known singer and stage actor who rode the Kerala stage like a colossus for over a quarter of a century. Eldest of the four sons and one daughter of the Joseph couple, Yesudas took to music at a very early age. His first Guru was his beloved father himself, who lovingly and painstakingly led little Yesudas through the basic precepts of Carnatic Music while he was hardly five years old.

From there, the budding singer took lessons under several musical wizards in and around Cochin and Chennai namely Kunjan Velu Aasan, P.X.Joseph, Sivaraman Nair, Ramankutty Bhagavathar, K.R.Kumaraswamy, Chemmangudi Srinivasaiyer, Chembai Vaidyanahtha Bhagavathar, and Pallavi Narasimha Achariya. He nurtured his native talents with discipline, dedication and determination.

At the St. Sebastian's High School, Pallurthi, Kochi, Yesudas was the top singer for several consecutive years in 1957; he stood first in the school state level youth festival in Carnatic vocal. In 1958, he was the recipient of gold medal in vocal singing at the all Kerala Catholic Youth Festival held at Ernakulam.

After School, Yesudas joined R.L.V. Music Academy, Tripunithura near Cochin for the Ganabhooshanam course, which he completed with a double promotion and distinction in 1960. Meanwhile, the young singer joined the Sree Swathithirunal Music Academy, Trivandrum, for higher studies. But he could not complete the course due to financial problems at home.

On 14th November 1961 Yesudas recorded his voice for a film for the first time. It was a verse written by Sri Narayana Guru, the sage of the backward classes of Kerala. " Jaathi Betham Mathadwesham Ethumillatha Sarvarum Sotharathwena Vazhunna Mathruka Sthaanamaanithu." The lyrics of the simple song conveyed a great meaning. It read: This is a model place where all the people live like brothers and sisters unaffected by the difference of caste and the enmities of religion". Truly a message in national integration . For Yesudas, for Kerala and for India, it was an auspicious day and an auspicious beginning.

Offers started pouring in after the release of a few more film songs and K.J. Yesudas never looked back after that. He became the favorites of the elders, darling of the middle aged, craze among the youth and an idol for the teenage generation.

He was invited to give concerts in every town and village of Kerala and also toured every part of India and the world since. He has performed in almost every major city in the world and has sung in many Indian and Foreign Languages.

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 .

In 1968, he was invited by the Soviet Government to perform as a cultural delegate in various parts of U.S.S.R. While in Russia, he sang a Russian song over Radio Kazakhstan, which was widely appreciated by local fans.

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 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.

He's one of the few Indian Artists to have performed at the Royal Albert Hall, London; and the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, respectively in 2001 and 2006.

Yesudas is the recipient of The Kerala State Award for Playback Singing, 23 times since 1970. In 1987, he requested the State Government not to consider him for future awards in order to provide opportunities for the new generation of singers.

In 1965 when China attacked India and a war broke out he sung in various centers to raise funds for the war efforts. Again in 1971, when the war over Bangladesh broke out, he took to the streets in an open truck and traveled the entire length and breath of Kerala collecting funds to help the nation, to tide over the crises. A large sum of money was thus collected. Yesudas later presented the money to Mrs.Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister at a special function in New Delhi. Mrs. Indira Gandhi congratulated and thanked the singer for taking the message of India's integrity and national pride to the people on the street through the medium of his singing and for bringing the sentiments of the people of Kerala to the capital in the form of their collective contribution towards war-chest, and at a time when the media such as television and radio were not as big as it is now.

In 2004 after the Tsunami attack Yesudas invited people of all religions and organized a YAGA in Chennai for the good cause of everyone.

The grateful Nation remembered to honor Yesudas when the time for the Presidential awards came in 1977. The President conferred on him the title of Padmashree on Republic Day that year, on the request of the Prime Minister.

National recognition also came in the form of the National Award for the best playback singer in India, SEVEN TIMES .The first time he won the award, in Malayalam for the film,extolling the importance of Hindu- Muslim Friendship. The lyrics of the song read thus read: “Man created religions. Religions created God. Between man, religions and Gods the earth was divided, the hearts were divided." Among the seven awards, he received one in Hindi and Telugu respectively.

National integration through the medium of music became the hallmark of his career quite early in his life when he broke the confines of the Malayalam film world to sing for Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, and Kannada films. Thousands of songs sung by him became instant hits bringing people together despite the barriers of region and language. Many of his songs carried worthy messages of love and brotherhood among people of different religions. He has sung more than 60,000 songs till date, in various languages (In films and albums).

Dr. K.J. Yesudas has sung for all the legends in the film industry such as M.G.Ramachandran, Shivaji Ganesan, N.T.Ramarao, Amitabh Bachan, Sanjeev kumar, Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Mammooty, Mohanlal, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan till date, and even singing for many of the current stars in many of the languages.

At the international level Yesudas has contributed his share to bring people of various lands together on many of his tours in Europe, America and the Middle East and Far East. Music lovers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Bangladesh throng along with his country men to listen to his voice.

At home, Yesudas was nominated to head the Sangeetha Nataka Academy of the State in 1970 as the youngest ever person to occupy the office. Dr.Yesudas strived to help suffering artists through exchange of music and drama between Kerala and other states in yet another effort to bring people together through art and culture.

His efforts to spot and promote fresh talent took concrete shape when he established the "THARANGNISARI" School of Music, Thiruvananthapuram. Boys and Girls from all walks of life converge on this centre for music and learn vocal and instrumental music in Hindustani Carnatic, and Western styles.

He even started a Voice Bank System, where young talents were allowed to record and send their tapes to a bank system, which would filter and select the best. In some ways what we call today's Reality Show Talent hunt, was done without the help of Television and Radio during the early 1990's.

The audio cassette revolution of the 70's found its echo in southern India mainly through the foresight and planning of Yesudas. Towards the end of that decade he finalized plans for the establishment of a recording studio in the capital city of Kerala. THARANIGNI STUDIO and THARANIGNI Records thus became the first recording centre in the state and Malayalam film songs and albums came out on music cassettes for the first time through THARANGNI with added attraction of Stereo Mixing and Stereo Music.

Yesudas has taken the message of "One Religion, One Caste for all Human "expounded by Shri Narayana Guru seriously to his heart. His symbolic pilgrimages to the Ayyappan Temple at Sabarimalai and his efforts to storm through the narrow consideration at the Sree Krishna Temple at Guruvayoor are all aimed at this noble cause. He performs classical concerts in Temple, Church , courtyards regularly and strives to bring people of all religions together through the mesmerizing medium of his melodious renderings.

Awards and honours :

  • In Kerala, Mahakavi Sri.G.Sankara Kurup gave the title
  • “Gana Gandharvan” to him in 1968.
  • The Kerala State Award for Best Male Playback Singer, 24 times since 1969.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1972.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1973.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1976.
  • He was honored the “Padmashree” by the President of India in 1977.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1982.
  • Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Manram conferred on him the title “KALAIMAMANI” in 1986.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1987.
  • Best Playback Singer award for the year 1988 both from Tamilnadu & Andhra Pradesh Governments.
  • “Doctorate” was conferred on him by Annamalai University in 1989.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1991.
  • Won the National Award for Best Male Plackback Singer in 1993.
  • Annual Latha Mangeshkar Award given to him, in 1993 by Government of Madhya Pradesh.
  • “National Citizen’s Award 1994” was presented by late Rev. Mother Teresa.
  • “PADMABHOOSHAN” was conferred on him by the President of India in 2002.
  • Sri Vidya Deesha Theertha Sripadaru of Sri Udupi Sri Krishna Temple gave him the title “Sangeetha Kala Sudhakara” on 18th Janu
  • On 18th April 2002 the Malayalee Club of Chennai on 6th Maharaj Swathi Thirunal Sangeetha Nrithotsavam conferred the “SWAT "
  • “Udupi Asthana Vidwan” title given by the Vidyadeesha Theertha Swamiji of Udupi Sri Krishna Mutt at a Function in Udupi on 2002
  • Sri Thyagarajaswamivari Temple, Building Trust, Tirupathi conferred the title of “SAPTHAGIRI SANGEETHA VIDWANMANI” 2002
  • Sri Ranjini Trust, Chennai awarded him the “Ranjini Sangeeta Kala Rathna Award”, on December 11th, 2002. Justice Mr.K.S.Bakthavatsalam presented the award.
  • On December 18th 2002, Indian Fine Arts Society, Chennai conferred the “Sangeetha Kala Sigamani” title.
  • The 2003 J.C. Daniel Award, Instituted by the Kerala Government for lifetime contribution to Malayalam Cinema.
  • Korambayil Ahammed Haji Foundation Award 2003, given on 6th October 2003 for spreading Religious Harmony.
  • 1st Vanitha Fortnight Weekly Cutticura Gallopoll Award for Best Male Playback singer for the Malayalam film titled “BALLETTAN” for the song “INNALLE ENDE NENJILE” was presented at Trivandrum in 2004.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award Presented by Film Fare on June 12, 2004 at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Chennai and Film Fare later awarded him with Best Male Playback Singer in Malayalam on 2007.
  • Lifetime Achievement Award given in Newyork, U.S.A. by the North Indian Film Industry in 2005.
  • On December 15th 2005, Dr.K.J.Yesudas Received "Wisdom International Award.”
  • The Kannada Chithra Sahitya Rathna Sri.Udayashankar Memorial Film Award for 2006-2007.
  • “NANDI AWARD,” given by the Andhra Pradhesh Government for the Year 2006 for best Male Playback Singer for the film “GANGA"
  • Lifetime Achievement Award Presented by ADVAITA on March 19, 2007 at Bangalore.
  • Granted Honorary Membership by the VANCOUVER SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA on May 10th 2008, Vancouver – Canada.
  • Sathya Memorial Sports and Club conferred “ Sathyam Memorial National Film Award 2008 on 27th January 2009
  • Doctorate was conferred on him by Mahatma Gandhi University on May 19th 2009.
  • 2008 conferred on him on 31st July 2009. Film Fare Award.
  • Vanitha Film Award was conferred 2010
  • Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Award was conferred 2010
  • FEFKA AMRITA film Award conferred on 4th June 2011
  • CNN IBN Lifetime Achievement Award was conferred on 16th Dec.2011 at Delhi .
  • Man of the year Limca International Award
  • Harivarasanam Award - 14-04-2012 at Sabarimala Sannidhanam

Yesudas is happily married to Prabha his better half for 38 years and has been blessed with 3 sons Vinod, Vijay, and Vishal. All three are excelling in their own professions, with only the second among them, Vijay Yesudas following his father's footsteps into the singing field by singing in all major film industries as well.

  • Published in People
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