It is the end of an era in Indian music, as the Nightingale of India, Lata Mangeshkar, whose voice serenaded and soothed millions for over 60 years, passed away on Sunday, February 6 in Mumbai. She was 92. Lata-tai, as she was fondly called, had sung melodies in almost 36 Indian languages, and had a unique voice extended over three octaves.
The 92-year-old singer tested positive for the novel coronavirus with mild symptoms and was admitted on January 8 to Breach Candy Hospital's intensive care unit. On January 29, she had shown signs of marginal improvement and was taken off the ventilator but continued to be under observation in the ICU. In November 2019, she had been admitted to the same hospital after she complained of difficulty in breathing and was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was discharged after 28 days.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who visited the hospital on Sunday morning, confirmed that she passed away, and said that her passing is an irreparable loss to the country.
Born in a family of musicians on September 28, 1929, Lata was the eldest daughter of the Marathi musician Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar. Her siblings, Meena Khadikar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar, and Hridaynath Mangeshkar are all celebrated musicians and singers as well.
At the age of five, Lata began to act in her father’s musicals. When she lost her father at the age of 13, the responsibility of managing the house fell on her shoulders. She took up singing under the guidance of Master Vinayak, owner of Navyug Chitrapat movie company, who was also a close friend of the Mangeshkars.
In 1942, she took up playback singing as a full-time career under Master Vinayak’s guidance. She moved to Mumbai in 1945 and began training under maestros like Ustad Aman Ali Khan and music director Ghulam Haider, and the latter was responsible for giving Lata her first major break in an age when slightly nasal voices were preferred for female playback singers.
Under Haider’s guidance, Lata Mangeshkar rose to fame in 1948 with the song titled ‘Dil Mera Toda, Mujhe Kahin Ka Na Chhora’ from the Hindi movie Majboor. However, she delivered her first hit in 1949 with the song ‘Ayega Anewala’ from the Madhubala-starrer Mahal.
From then on, there was no looking back. Lata went on to become the voice of almost all leading actresses — from Madhubala and Vyjantimala to Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta.
In the 1970s, the 1980s, and even the 1990s, Lata and sister Asha Bhosale ruled the Bollywood charts. She worked with celebrated music directors like SD Burman, Salil Chowdhury, Sankar Jaikishan, Naushad, Madan Mohan, Kalyanji-Anandji, Khayyam and many others and accompanied many male celebrated singers like Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor and Manna Dey
She won her first Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 1958 for the song ‘Aaja Re Pardesi’ from the film Madhumati. In the span of her illustrious career, Lata won three National Film Awards, four Filmfare Best Female Playback Awards, two Filmfare Special Awards, Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award, 15 Bengal Film Journalists' Association Awards, to name a few.
In 1969, she was honoured with the Padma Bhushan and then with the Padma Vibhushan in 1999. In 1989, she was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award by the Government of India. In 2001, Lata Mangeshkar was awarded Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour, and was only the second vocalist after singer Subbulakshmi to be given the award. With around 25,000 solo, duet and chorus backed songs in 20 Indian languages, Lata Mangeshkar also held the Guinness World Record for the most recorded artist for a while, a title closely contested by Mohammad Rafi. In 2007, France conferred on her the highest French honour, the Insignia of ‘Officier de la Legion d’Honneur.'