Legendary singer SP Balasubrahmanyam or SPB as he was popularly called, passed away in Chennai on Friday at 1.04 pm. The 74-year-old singer was admitted on August 5 to MGM Healthcare Hospital, a private facility, after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. He had been on life support since August 14, when his condition became critical. The singer’s son SP Charan then revealed that he was responsive to treatment and expressed hope of a complete recovery. But SPB's health took a turn for the worse on September 24 and he succumbed to his illness on September 25.
On August 5, the day he was admitted to the private hospital after being diagnosed with COVID-19, SPB had gone live on Facebook to reassure his fans, stating that his symptoms were mild.
"Last two to three days I have been having a little discomfort. Discomfort means little chest congestion, which for a singer is nonsense. But I didn't want to take it easy, so I went to the hospital and checked. So they said it was just a mild, mild, mild, very mild positive of corona. They said you can stay home and self quarantine yourself. But I didn't want to do that. It is very tough in the place with all the family. They are very concerned, they can't leave you alone. So I got admitted to the hospital," the singer had said in his final Facebook video.
A legendary singer
An accomplished playback singer, actor and voice-artist, SPB was multi-talented. In a career spanning over 50 years, he has sung around 40,000 songs in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi. His prowess in singing earned him numerous accolades including a Padma Bhushan from the President of India and a Guinness record for recording the highest number of songs in a day.
It was in 1966 that he made his debut with the Telugu movie Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna. Circa 1969 was a watershed moment for the playback singing industry in Tamil filmdom. When the movie Adimai Penn released, it was not just another success for MG Ramachandran, it also saw the birth of one of the greatest singers of all times – SP Balasubrahmanyam.
Born on June 4, 1946 in the erstwhile Madras Presidency, he was a singer with a powerful voice, and had no formal training in any kind of music. His entry into playback singing was an accident which played out both ways for him in the industry – people admired his pitch-perfect rendition, but then he would also not remember the impulsive improvisations (Sangathis) if the composer told him to re-sing it the next time since he didn’t know to mark notations. “Paithiya kaaran kaila kallu, enga poi vizhum nu theriyadhu,” he would later tell Bosskey in a four-part interview with him in 2016. (Who knows where the stone in the hand of a madman fall?)
He started his playback career in 1966 and sang in Telugu and Kannada before setting foot into Tamil filmdom. His first film in Tamil was Hotel Rambha (which did not release due to various reasons); it was after this that he sang in Shanthi Nilayam, which released simultaneously with MGR’s Adimai Penn, giving SPB his break in Tamil. That year (1969), he also won the Best Playback Singer award from the government of Tamil Nadu.
As much as he was popular in Tamil cinema, his first National Award was in his mother tongue for the Telugu film 'Sankarabharanam'.
The film proved his prowess in Carnatic music and he would follow it up with a second national award for his first Hindi song, Tere Mere Beech Mein, in the film Ek Duuje Ke Liye. He then won national awards for Telugu movies Sagara Sangamam and Rudraveena. He was the voice for Telugu superstars Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Balakrishna and Venkatesh for many popular hit numbers. Sangeetha Sagara Ganayogi Panchakshara Gavai, a Kannada film, won him the fifth national award.
One of the only singers to have worked with legends across eras – MS Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rahman – SPB also had his moments in front of the camera. He has acted in various roles ranging from guest appearances to supporting roles in around 70 movies in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Particularly, he has been the voice of Rajinikanth in his superhit film songs for a long time, and was considered the ‘singing voice’ of the superstar. He has given voice to hit songs like My name is Billa, Ragangal Padhinaaru, En Peru Padayappa, and most recently, Marana Mass in Petta.
His voice had that distinct quality to flow from being silky, smooth and flirtatious to packing abundant power in a jiffy. His loss has certainly left a great void in the industry and also in the hearts of millions of fans.