Swarnalatha known as the ‘Hummingbird of India’ was born on April 29, 1973 in a village called chittur in Palakkad, Keral,a from where she grew up to be one of India’s best playback singers. Within a short period of time, her imprint on the music world was big.
Swarnalatha sang nearly 6000 songs in seven Indian languages, including Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali. She won a national award for Best Female Playback Singer for her song ‘Porale Ponnuthayi’ from the Tamil movie Karuthamma.
Bidding farewell to 22 years of a musical career with her mesmerising voice dynamics, Swarnalatha died on September 12, 2010, following a lung infection in Chennai. She was 37 years old when the disease took away her voice from the music world. The ‘Swarangalin Arasi’ (Hummingbird) of India who’s voice still lingers all over the world even after passing away, deserves documentation, reverence, and applause.
Hailing from Kerala’s small-town, Swarnalatha was trained in Carnatic music from the age of three, and started her career as a playback singer with the song “Chinnachiru Kiliye” alongside K.J Yeshudas under the composition of M.S Viswanathan.
According to The Deccan Herald, her father was a harmonium player and a singer, which paved her way into the world of music by learning to play harmonium, keyboard, and practising vocals. Surrounded by music within the family, she was also well trained in Hindustani music.
Swarnalatha finished her education in Karnataka as her family moved to Karnataka when she was a child and later moved to Chennai to chase her dreams as a musician in the film industry for opportunities. The first opportunity knocked on her door in the year 1987 through composer M.S Viswanathan, and it was followed by many other opportunities giving justice to her talent.
Her unique voice was well utilised to create magic by music composers including the well-known Illayaraja and A.R Rahman. She was the first female playback singer to get a national award in an A.R Rahman musical. Swarnalatha’s songs are still fresh and lively in all languages including Hindi, one of the most notable ones being a duet with singer Hariharan from the movie ‘Rangeela’, “Hai Rama kya hua”.
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Swarnalatha’s unique voice could render all types of songs including melodies like ‘Maalayil Yaaro Manathodu Pesa‘, from Satthriyan and ‘Kaadhalenum Thervezhudhi’ from Kadhalar Dhinam. She recorded songs for many hit films including Thalapathi (1991), Thevar Magan(1992), Bombay (1995), Minsara Kanavu (1997) etc.
She lent her voice for experimental songs like A.R Rahman’s ‘Mukkala Mukkabla’ with a pliability and versatility. The 90’s witnessed a different flavour of her vocals that were hard to replicate by anyone. Swarnalatha’s energetic, smashing hit of all time ‘Usilampatti penkutti’, still resonates with the people of all generations. She worked with all talented music composers like Deva, Vidhyasagar, Mani Sharma, as well as Yuvan Shankar Raja, Hariis Jayaraj, and many others.
According to The Federal, during an interview, Swarnalatha had confessed that she was so moved by the song that she was in tears when she finished recording it.
Remembering Swarnalatha during an interview given to Vijay TV in the year 2011, singer Sujatha said, “The news was so shocking to me and the whole music industry, personally, I met her, worked with her but I did not get a chance to become closefriends with her because she was as very reserved person but always smiling. She will come, record and go but we feel a lot of love towards her, I have sung a song called ‘Mellisaye’ with her alongside Unni Menon. In recording she is such a fast singer; her delivery of singing, pitch everything is so perfect”.
“Poraale ponnuthayi is my favourite song, I still get teared up listening to that, I only pray to God that may her soul rest in peace“, she added.
Swarnalatha’s early demise left the world from knowing her and her vocals even more, but anyone who is a true music lover is familiar with her songs, which makes her live through the legacy she left behind. Swarnalatha died at Malar Hospitals in Adayar, Chennai, due Idiopathic lung disease leaving behind the musical world with a void that none could fill.
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