KJ Yesudas celebrates his golden jubilee as a singer on November 14 as it was on this day, fifty years ago that he recorded his first song which marked his arrival in the film industry
In 50 years, Yesudas has sung over 35,000 songs in 14 languages. Some of his popular Hindi numbers are Surmayee Ankhiyon Mein, Dil Ke Tukde Tukde Karke, Jaaneman Tere Do Nayan. Down south, he gave hits in movies like Vadakkum Nathan, Madhuchandralekha and Pattanathil Sundaran.The Kerala government will honour Yesudas for his contribution in music. “Even though a request did come up to give the status of ‘State Singer’ to Yesudas, the constitution does not permit state governments to confer titles on individuals, but we will certainly give him a Lifetime Achievement award. The details of this are being worked out,” said KC Joseph, State Minister for Culture. The 71-year-old veteran was born in Fort Kochi to Augustine Joseph and Alicekutty. His father, who was a well-known Malayalam classical musician and stage actor, was his first guru. Later he joined the RLV Music Academy in Trippunithura near Kochi and then studied at the Sree Swati Thirunal Music College, in the capital city under the training of Late Semmangudy Sreenivasa Iyer. But he had to leave his studies midway due to financial crunch.
For a brief period, he was with Sri Vechur Hari Hara Subramania Iyer, after which he took advanced training from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Incidentally, it was MB Sreenivasan, well-known South Indian music director who after his first meeting with Yesudas in 1961 had predicted that a star is born and was the one who gave Yesudas his first singing assignment. Sreenivasan sent Yesudas a telegram asking him to rush to Madras (now Chennai) for a recording. But when the young singer reached Madras, he was told that he would have to wait for two months because there’s a change in plans. Yesudas was shattered because he had no money. He even suffered a typhoid attack. When the recording date arrived, he had not recovered but the organisers allowed him to sing a four-line ‘shloka’ of Sree Narayana Guru in the Malayalam movie Kalpadukel. This marked the first recording for him and there was no looking back for Yesudas, who even after 50 years continues to be one of the most sought after singers in the industry.
On numerous occasions, the veteran singer has said that he has struggled to keep his career afloat right from the time he was a student, when poverty was giving him a tough time. One incident the singer often quotes was when he was 16 years old and studying at the Sree Swati Thirunal Music College. During those days he used to eat at a small hotel. One day when hungry Yesudas sat down to have lunch and a bearer was about to serve him rice, the hotel owner growled and said that Yesudas need not be given food till he pays the outstanding balance of Rs 35. Many years later when Yesudas was flying high, he was told that the hotel owner who shooed him away was sick. The singer immediately reached the hospital and told him not to worry about the money and took care of his medical expenses. The singer clarified to the hotel owner that he was not trying to clear his long standing debt of Rs 35 because that unpaid bill will keep alive a relationship between them.
Over the years, Yesudas has been conferred the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan besides winning seven national and 17 state film awards in singing. Yesudas has three sons and his second son Vijay Yesudas too won the state film award for singing in 2007.