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SPB, singer of 40,000 Indian film songs, dies at 74
In this file photo taken on March 24, 2011 Indian President Pradibha Singh Patil (L) presents Indian singer S P Balasubrahmanyam during the presentation of the 'Padma Awards 2011' at the Presidential House in New Delhi. STR / AFP.

by Udita Jhunjhunwala

MUMBAI (AFP).- S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, whose prolific output as a singer included around 40,000 songs in 16 Indian languages, died Friday aged 74 after a prolonged battle with coronavirus.

His decades-long career included stints as a musician, composer, producer and voiceover artist, but it was his singing which won him millions of fans across India, with chartbusters in multiple languages.

Known to fans as SPB, he was diagnosed with the virus last month and admitted to hospital in the southern city of Chennai.

His death comes on the heels of what has been a particularly tragic period for Indian cinema, which in May lost composer Wajid Khan to the disease aged just 42, and luminaries Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor to other illnesses in April.

The June suicide of popular actor Sushant Singh Rajput sent further shockwaves across Bollywood, sparking a media frenzy.

Balasubrahmanyan originally intended to be an engineer, but music was never far from his mind, as he entered -- and won -- singing contests while still at university, eventually making his professional debut in 1966 in a Telugu language film.

Accolades quickly followed, bringing him six national awards for songs performed in four languages -- Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi.

"People gave me an opportunity and I had the strength to work for it, and I did work for it," he said in an interview to The News Minute website in 2015.

A recipient of the Padma Bhushan, India's third highest civilian honour, he was also known as the singing voice of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan.

Their partnership began with the 1989 hit "Maine Pyar Kiya" ("I Fell in Love"), which turned Khan into an overnight sensation, and continued with the 1991 romance "Saajan" ("Beloved") and the 1994 blockbuster "Hum Aapke Hain Koun!" ("Who Am I to You!").

Khan was among several industry figures who paid tribute to the singer, tweeting: "Heartbroken to hear about #SPBalasubrahmanyam sir... you will forever live on in your undisputed legacy of music!"

'Musical genius'
In addition to lending his voice to Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan's 2013 hit "Chennai Express", Balasubrahmanyam also built a hugely successful career in the southern Tamil and Telugu industries.

Telugu megastar Chiranjeevi Konidela tweeted that he owed his success to Balasubrahmanyam's songs and called him an "unparalleled musical genius".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised "his melodious voice", tweeting that his death had left "our cultural world... a lot poorer".

The versatile performer collaborated with Indian cinema's top composers, including M.S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja and Oscar-winner A.R. Rahman, who said that he was "devastated" by the news.

He was also known for his generosity, with former chess world champion Viswanathan Anand paying tribute to him Friday for being "my first sponsor" at a 1983 tournament.

"Really sad to hear about the passing away of such a great yet simple person," Anand tweeted.

In a bitter irony, his most recent foray into philanthropy in May saw him join hands with Ilaiyaraaja for a musical tribute to frontline workers fighting the pandemic.

© Agence France-Presse

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