Underrated & Uderrecognized Playback Singers of Yesteryear – Part 1

[dropcap1 color=”blue”]T[/dropcap1]his by no means is a comparative post for the singers of bygone era, but my personal opinion and tribute to the crooning individuals who didn’t get credit they deserved and some didn’t even made it to limelight .

When talking about the female playback singers, it is Lata Mangeshkar & Asha Bhosle that people recall as default names. Whereas, for male playback singers, they swear by Md. Rafi, Mukesh & Kishore Kumar. Few serious listeners who happen to be AIR’s children (All India Radio, Radio Ceylon & Vividh Bharati to be more precise) would even reminisce Noorjahan, Shamshad Begum, Geeta Dutt, Talat Mehmood, Hemant Kumar, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor among others who ‘also’ ruled the roost at their time. But there are some names who were competent enough to claim for fame but unfortunately couldn’t or with a limited success. But for whatever reason they faded away with time, they indeed lingers in some music hungry ears like mine.

I’ve also bifurcated the post between Underrated & Under-recognized. With underrated I’d mean the one who shot to popularity at their time but now remembered only by the classes NOT masses. Also, some of them were the serious contenders to their accomplished siblings. And with under-recognized I’d mean those souls whose songs are remembered, but their name is  something which is unheard of (for current generation at-least). Part 1 of this series consists of former category here.

Underrated Playback Singers of Yesteryear

  • Female

Suman Hemadi Kalyanpur

suman kalyanpur
Suman Kalyanpur

Ostensibly reffered as Lata’s vocal twin. Few (including me in the beginning) would always confuse her songs with Lata’s. Though for some reason unknown (latter on over this), she didn’t make it as big as Lata and Asha but reserves a revered space with her fans till date. Though Lata’s might is unparalleled, but Suman was second to none when it came to both voice and variety. Be it classical, semi classical, flamboyant, sad or western – she was an enchantress of her own. Introduced by Talat Mehmood, she is often considered to be the greatest beneficiary of Lata-O P Nayyar, Lata-Rafi & Lata- S D Burman dispute – but this was the matter of her singing prowess not just luck. For the feud which kept Lata at bay from above mentioned names, Suman was effectively used for the purpose of singing where she proves herself by being second to none. And this is when she shone the most and throughout 60s. She also proved her mettle with some immortals like “Apne Piya Ki Main To Bani Re Joganiya”, “Tumhi Mere Meet Ho”, “Mere Mehboob Na Ja”, “Yun Hi Dil Ne Chaha Tha”, “Ye Kisne Geet Cheda”, “Behena Ne Bhai Ki Kalai”, “Na Jaane Kahan Tum The” etc. Md Rafi, who was mostly paired with Lata for duets also recorded some memorable tunes with Suman like “Ajahoon Na Aaye”, “Thahariye Hosh Mein Aa Loon”, “Tumse O Haseena” & “Aaj Kal Tere Mere” .

Sad enough, she didn’t get the attention & accolades she really deserved. If some sources are to be believed, she perhaps also fell pray of typical bollywood politics. Or her singing career simply got doomed by her strong resemblance to Melody Queen Lata’s voice – so if this was a boon or bane – don’t know.

Mubarak Begum

mubarak begum
Mubarak Begum

Ironically, the one who gratified us with something like “Kabhi Tanhaiyon Mein” is now in a solitary confinement. The song today is more of a haunting piece than the soulful melody at that time.  She hails from one of the elite league who shot to fame with just handful of songs. “Mujhko Apne Gale Laga Lo”, “Sawaria Teri Yaad Mein”, “Bemuravat Bewafa” etc are amongst iconic songs of that era. Begum also had it in her to become a mainstream singer with industry, but as the fate would have it, she too like other artists went suddenly out of the scene. But her failure wasn’t that of an obscured type, instead she counts of a few individuals who took toll over her career by some prominent disfavor. In her own words ” someone said to a music director/producer that if you take another singers, then I’d quit”.  There were few instances where her songs were recorded but wasn’t used in the movies at all. “Pardesiyon Se Na Ankhiyan Milana” & “Agar Mujhe Na Mile Tum” was done and to be released with her voice, but was released with singer of higher repute and preference without her consent or knowledge.  “I was very simple and there were a lot of politics in the industry”, she counts. And by the end of the decade of 60s, she couldn’t bag much of the singing offer and ceased to sing.

Usha Mangeshkar

usha mangeshkar
Usha Mangeshkar

Whereas her singing sisters Lata Mangeshkar & Asha Bhosle became a crooning empress, Usha Mangeshkar though with all her talent couldn’t make it that big. Usha, who delivered some great numbers in 70s both as duet and solo still couldn’t make a mark that she deserved. Her popularity sored high with the scores like “Mungda”, “Sultana Sultana”, “Tumko Piya”, “Aplam Chaplam”, “Goro Ki Na Kalo Ki”  & “Saathi Tere Naam” is to name a few. She is also best remembered for her rendition “Main to Aarti Utaroon Re” for which she got nominated for Filmfare Awards (another one for “Mungda”). As a prolific singer, Usha recorded commendable number of duets (both female-female & male-female) over the solo. Like Asha, she too had flexibility in her voice to sing the songs from every genre. But gradually lost the ground after 80s in bollywood.



With Lata in her name, this diva’s voice too had the similar pitch and tone of the melody queen. But again, she couldn’t claim the supremacy but gained enough popularity in 70s and early 80s. Her career spanned for nearly a decade and a half only, but she churned memorable songs of her time and captured the heart of listeners with voice like a sweet potion. She went on to become Rajshree Productions’ darling lending her voice in nearly all the movies produced by them at that time. Hemlata mostly worked up with Usha Khanna & Ravindra Jain. She is still popular with her fans with the evergreen songs like “Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se”, “Tu Is Tarah Se”, “Le To Aaye Ho”,”Jab Tak Poore Na Ho” etc. “Tu Jo Mere Sur Mein” also won her Filmfare Awards for best female playback singer. Despite of all those popularity she garnered, she still didn’t walk tall in the melody lane.

  • Male

Shailendra Singh

shailendra singh
Shailendra Singh

What Mukesh was to Raj Kapoor and what Md Rafi was to Shammi Kapoor is what Shailendra was to Rishi Kapoor. Bobby, which was debut for both catapulted them into an overnight stardom. Also attributed as a rockstar of  late 70s & early 80s, swept the nation by storm but left like the same. His youthful voice and the energy he imbibed within haven’t been bettered since. Being Rishi Kapoor’s voice also came up with its own share of woes as the graph of success of also became somewhat identical. Rishi survived his flops, but Shailendra didnt (though all his songs went hit). Some critics also feels that the singer also lacked consistency and an essential quality of singing-by-heart which is a what sets a great singer apart from its peers. His hits like “Main Shayar to Nahin”, “Humne Tumko Dekha”, “Hoga Tumse Pyaara Kaun”, “Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein” & “Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi” still enjoys a respectable space with music aficionados.

Bhupinder Singh

bhupinder singh
Bhupinder Singh

A Madan Mohan’s discovery and debuted with a hit “Hoke Majboor Mujhe” where he sings with aplomb with other musical stalwarts like Talat Mehmood, Md. Rafi & Manna Dey. Latter on, he bags a chance for R D Burman’s orchestra where he lent his string piece for the memorable scores like “Dum Maro Dum”, “Mehbooba Mehbooba”, “Chura Liya Hai” etc. But being blessed with distinct voice with equal flair, he chanced upon singing for RD’s composition in Parichay. His rendition almost became the synonymous to Gulzar’s pen and the trio of Gulzar-RD-Bhupinder churned out those songs by which the decades of 70s & 80s are recognized till date. Songs like “Dil Dhoondta Hai”, “Naam Gum Jaayega”, “Ek Akela Ek Shahar Main” & “Do Deewane Shahar Mein” enjoys a cult status with the songs of its genre. But his slow exit from singing into film was somewhat deliberate than natural. He latter on moved to Ghazals & Private Albums after having coupled up with his wife Mitali who turned out to be a complimentary voice for him after their marriage.

K J Yesudas


A classical singer-par-excellence who hails from South is still popular with his fans. Also became a prominent voice with Alternative Hindi Cinemas which were making forays in 70s & 80s. As a matter of fact, his song has never been filmed on the Big or Legendary filmstars (with few exceptions of course). His songs were gelled with soothing rendition and immaculate approach. The song also sported a rare blend of soulfulness & flamboyance. Being an established classical singer, he took classical scores with much of ease. “Ka Karoon Sajani”, “Kahan Se Aaye Badra” & “Tu Jo Mere Sur Mein” are the reminiscent piece as the classical tracks of that era. Then “Gori Tera Gaon Bada Pyara”, “Jaaneman Jaaneman”, “Maana Ho Tum” & “Aaj Se Pehle” still lingers in the ears of bollywood fanboys. Yesudas also has a distinction of having received seven National Film Award which has no parallels.  It was his presence here for short span which never elevated him from the crowd of  Second Voice despite of being an artist of high repute & stature. I also wonder what if he came just a decade ago from his original entry to the tinsel town. Though his career in bollywood was shortlived, Yesudas is still going great in south with his Non-Filmi, Carnatic & Classical singing and composition.

The second and concluding part of this article covers Uderrecognized Playback Singers of Yesteryear. Click Here to go to Part 2.


  1. dheeraj bhardwaj Aug 10, 2015 at 1:52 am

    Salute you mr. amit wraj- Excellent Article posted and the most useful information ever posted on your website, I thought so many times but never get the full information from anybody, i knew that there would be some great personality behind those evergreen lovely songs in soothing voice.

    Thank you so much for sharing and spending your time for us.
    Wish you a good luck
    God bless you and keep up the work

    1. Kumar Amit Sep 21, 2015 at 5:11 am

      Thanks for stopping by my article. Glad you liked it. Will share more over the time. Stay Tuned !!!

  2. Uday May 1, 2020 at 1:41 pm

    Whatever you may say the fact remains Lataji, Rafi saheb and to some extent Asha ji and Suman ji are real versatile playback singers. They can sing any type of song. Can u expect a qawwali from Yesudas, Hemlata, Vani Jairam or bhajan from Mubarak, Shailendra Singh and pure classical songs from these artistes? If you don’t agree with me, take opinion of some eminent classical singers or those musicians who actually worked with them.


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