Music came as divine grace and paternal inheritance to K.J. Yesudas, one of India's foremost exponents of classical carnatic vocal music and leading playback singer in all Indian languages. His classical concerts and film music concerts continue to captivate millions of listeners at home and abroad.
Kattassery Joseph Yesudas was born on January 10th 1940 in Fort Kochi, the ancient port city of Kerala. His father Augustine Joseph was himself a well-known singer and stage actor who rode the Kerala stage like a colossus for over a quarter of a century. Eldest of the four sons and one daughter of the Joseph couple, Yesudas took to music at a very early age. His first Guru was his beloved father himself, who lovingly and painstakingly led little Yesudas through the basic precepts of Carnatic Music while he was hardly five years old.
From there, the budding singer took lessons under several musical wizards in and around Cochin and Chennai namely Kunjan Velu Aasan, P.X.Joseph, Sivaraman Nair, Ramankutty Bhagavathar, K.R.Kumaraswamy, Chemmangudi Srinivasaiyer, Chembai Vaidyanahtha Bhagavathar, and Pallavi Narasimha Achariya. He nurtured his native talents with discipline, dedication and determination.
At the St. Sebastian's High School, Pallurthi, Kochi, Yesudas was the top singer for several consecutive years in 1957; he stood first in the school state level youth festival in Carnatic vocal. In 1958, he was the recipient of gold medal in vocal singing at the all Kerala Catholic Youth Festival held at Ernakulam.
After School, Yesudas joined R.L.V. Music Academy, Tripunithura near Cochin for the Ganabhooshanam course, which he completed with a double promotion and distinction in 1960. Meanwhile, the young singer joined the Sree Swathithirunal Music Academy, Trivandrum, for higher studies. But he could not complete the course due to financial problems at home.
On 14th November 1961 Yesudas recorded his voice for a film for the first time. It was a verse written by Sri Narayana Guru, the sage of the backward classes of Kerala. " Jaathi Betham Mathadwesham Ethumillatha Sarvarum Sotharathwena Vazhunna Mathruka Sthaanamaanithu." The lyrics of the simple song conveyed a great meaning. It read: This is a model place where all the people live like brothers and sisters unaffected by the difference of caste and the enmities of religion". Truly a message in national integration . For Yesudas, for Kerala and for India, it was an auspicious day and an auspicious beginning.
Offers started pouring in after the release of a few more film songs and K.J. Yesudas never looked back after that. He became the favorites of the elders, darling of the middle aged, craze among the youth and an idol for the teenage generation.
He was invited to give concerts in every town and village of Kerala and also toured every part of India and the world since. He has performed in almost every major city in the world and has sung in many Indian and Foreign Languages.
In 1968, he was invited by the Soviet Government to perform as a cultural delegate in various parts of U.S.S.R. While in Russia, he sang a Russian song over Radio Kazakhstan, which was widely appreciated by local fans.
He's one of the few Indian Artists to have performed at the Royal Albert Hall, London; and the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, respectively in 2001 and 2006.
Yesudas is the recipient of The Kerala State Award for Playback Singing, 23 times since 1970. In 1987, he requested the State Government not to consider him for future awards in order to provide opportunities for the new generation of singers.
In 1965 when China attacked India and a war broke out he sung in various centers to raise funds for the war efforts. Again in 1971, when the war over Bangladesh broke out, he took to the streets in an open truck and traveled the entire length and breath of Kerala collecting funds to help the nation, to tide over the crises. A large sum of money was thus collected. Yesudas later presented the money to Mrs.Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister at a special function in New Delhi. Mrs. Indira Gandhi congratulated and thanked the singer for taking the message of India's integrity and national pride to the people on the street through the medium of his singing and for bringing the sentiments of the people of Kerala to the capital in the form of their collective contribution towards war-chest, and at a time when the media such as television and radio were not as big as it is now.
In 2004 after the Tsunami attack Yesudas invited people of all religions and organized a YAGA in Chennai for the good cause of everyone.
The grateful Nation remembered to honor Yesudas when the time for the Presidential awards came in 1977. The President conferred on him the title of Padmashree on Republic Day that year, on the request of the Prime Minister.
National recognition also came in the form of the National Award for the best playback singer in India, SEVEN TIMES .The first time he won the award, in Malayalam for the film,extolling the importance of Hindu- Muslim Friendship. The lyrics of the song read thus read: “Man created religions. Religions created God. Between man, religions and Gods the earth was divided, the hearts were divided." Among the seven awards, he received one in Hindi and Telugu respectively.
National integration through the medium of music became the hallmark of his career quite early in his life when he broke the confines of the Malayalam film world to sing for Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, and Kannada films. Thousands of songs sung by him became instant hits bringing people together despite the barriers of region and language. Many of his songs carried worthy messages of love and brotherhood among people of different religions. He has sung more than 60,000 songs till date, in various languages (In films and albums).
Dr. K.J. Yesudas has sung for all the legends in the film industry such as M.G.Ramachandran, Shivaji Ganesan, N.T.Ramarao, Amitabh Bachan, Sanjeev kumar, Sathyan, Prem Nazir, Mammooty, Mohanlal, Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan till date, and even singing for many of the current stars in many of the languages.
At the international level Yesudas has contributed his share to bring people of various lands together on many of his tours in Europe, America and the Middle East and Far East. Music lovers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Bangladesh throng along with his country–men to listen to his voice.
At home, Yesudas was nominated to head the Sangeetha Nataka Academy of the State in 1970 as the youngest ever person to occupy the office. Dr.Yesudas strived to help suffering artists through exchange of music and drama between Kerala and other states in yet another effort to bring people together through art and culture.
His efforts to spot and promote fresh talent took concrete shape when he established the "THARANGNISARI" School of Music, Thiruvananthapuram. Boys and Girls from all walks of life converge on this centre for music and learn vocal and instrumental music in Hindustani Carnatic, and Western styles.
He even started a Voice Bank System, where young talents were allowed to record and send their tapes to a bank system, which would filter and select the best. In some ways what we call today's Reality Show Talent hunt, was done without the help of Television and Radio during the early 1990's.
The audio cassette revolution of the 70's found its echo in southern India mainly through the foresight and planning of Yesudas. Towards the end of that decade he finalized plans for the establishment of a recording studio in the capital city of Kerala. THARANIGNI STUDIO and THARANIGNI Records thus became the first recording centre in the state and Malayalam film songs and albums came out on music cassettes for the first time through THARANGNI with added attraction of Stereo Mixing and Stereo Music.
Yesudas has taken the message of "One Religion, One Caste for all Human "expounded by Shri Narayana Guru seriously to his heart. His symbolic pilgrimages to the Ayyappan Temple at Sabarimalai and his efforts to storm through the narrow consideration at the Sree Krishna Temple at Guruvayoor are all aimed at this noble cause. He performs classical concerts in Temple, Church , courtyards regularly and strives to bring people of all religions together through the mesmerizing medium of his melodious renderings.
Yesudas is happily married to Prabha his better half for 38 years and has been blessed with 3 sons Vinod, Vijay, and Vishal. All three are excelling in their own professions, with only the second among them, Vijay Yesudas following his father's footsteps into the singing field by singing in all major film industries as well.