Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi (popularly known as M.S. or M.S.S./M.S. Maami) (1916 -2004) was a renowned Carnatic vocalist. She was the first musician ever to be awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian honour.
Subbalakshmi was born in the temple town of Madurai on 16th September 1916, to veena player Shanmukhavadivu. Her grandmother Akkammal was a violinist. Her father, a lawyer by profession, was a music lover. Her first guru Madurai Srinivasa Iyengar died early, but she kept practising on her own, and having a musician mother helped a lot. Her first recording was at the age of ten, when she recorded a couple of songs for HMV in Madras.
She started giving concerts when young, first accompanying her mother and then as a solo vocalist. She has given concerts all over the world like the ones at Edinburgh festival and at the United Nations, Carnegie Hall as the the inaugural concert at the festival of India in London in 1982.
In 1940 she married Sadasivam, a well known figure in the Madras Congress circle, and a protege of Rajaji. They had met four years earlier and with his wide connections in the journalistic and political world, he became instrumental in the continued success of her already flourishing career. She started acting in films too, in 1938. Her films were quite successful and her final film Meera released both in Hindi and Tamil was a hit. After that she gave up films to concentrate solely on music. The money from films went into the magazine Kalki.
A series of top musicians, notable among them Semmangudi, Musiri, Brinda, composer Papanasam Sivan, and 'bhajan' singer Sidheswari Devi of Banarese, were persuaded to teach Subbalakshmi fresh compositions and styles of singing.
Subbalakshmi died on 11th December 2004, leaving behind her large repertoire of classical, bhajan and film recordings.
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