Shripathi Panditaradhyula Balasubrahmanyam (S. P. Balasubrahmanyam) was born in Konetampet village in North Arcot district of Madras Presidency (present-day Tiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu) into a Telugu family and raised in Nellore. His father, late S. P. Sambamurthy, was a Harikatha artist who had also acted in plays. His mother was Sakunthalamma, who died on 4 February 2019. He has two brothers and five sisters, including singer S. P. Sailaja. His son is S. P. Charan who is also a popular South Indian Singer, Actor and a Producer.
Balasubrahmanyam developed an interest in music at an early age, studied notations and learned music. He enrolled at JNTU College of Engineering Anantapur with the intention of becoming an engineer. He discontinued his studies early due to typhoid and joined as an Associate Member of the Institution of Engineers, Chennai.
He continued to pursue music during his engineering studies and won awards at singing competitions. In 1964, he won the first prize in a music competition for amateur singers organised by the Madras-based Telugu Cultural Organisation. He was the leader of a light music troupe composed of Anirutta (on the harmonium), Ilaiyaraaja (on guitar and later on harmonium), Baskar (on percussion), and Gangai Amaran (on guitar). He was selected as the best singer in a singing competition which was judged by S. P. Kodandapani and Ghantasala. Often visiting music composers seeking opportunities, his first audition song was “Nilave Ennidam Nerungadhe”. It was rendered by veteran playback singer P. B. Srinivas, who used to write and give him multi-lingual verses in Telugu, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Sanskrit, English and Urdu.
Balasubrahmanyam made his debut in film music as a singer in Dec 15, 1966, with Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna, a film scored by his mentor Kodandapani. He has sung more than 40,000 songs since then in more than 5 different Indian languages, including Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Hindi and Malayalam. He holds the world record in the Guinness Book of World Records for having sung the most number of song recordings by any singer (the record for a female singer is held by Lata Mangeshkar).
A gifted singer, he is highly regarded for his incredible vocal range, deep rich voice, and mastery of style, technique and control. These qualities allowed him express across various genres of Indian music, and he has been highly sought-after by many of India’s film music composers. His approach to singing is methodical; he perseveres to understand the full meaning of the songs that he sings (many of which are very poetic) and the settings in which these songs are couched in order to make it most effective. S.P.B., though was very young, started singing for many different language films. As he became very busy, at times, he used to sing even 17 songs in 12 hours at the recording theatre. He has also sung in Sanskrit and some regard his pronunciation of this language to be very good. Most of the introduction songs in Chiranjeevi and Rajinikanth films are sung by SPB. Most people feel that Balasubrahmanyam’s voice most suits Kamal Haasan. Sometimes, people cannot even figure out if it is Kamal singing or Balu singing or even Kamal talking or Balu talking.
He virtually monopolised playback singing for more than 30 years in the Telugu, Kannada and Tamil cinema industries. His contemporary Dr. K.J.Yesudas monopolised the Malayalam music industry. SPB sang only a few songs in Malayalam. Although Yesudas’ voice was regarded more suitable for sad songs in Tamil, SPB has also sung some evergreen sad songs in Tamil such as ‘Naanum unthen uravai’,’Nenjukkulle’ and ‘Kuyilappudichu’. He has hosted popular TV shows in Telugu called Paadutha Theeyaga on E-TV, Paadalani Undi on MAA-TV , and a kannada show Ede Thumbi Haaduvenu on ‘E-TV Kannada’ and Tamil show ‘Ennodu Paattu Paadungal’ on JAYA-TV.