- The New York Times called her “a revered figure in India,” the Associated Press described her as “a legendary Indian singer with a prolific, groundbreaking catalog and a voice recognized by more than a billion people in South Asia.”
Lata Mangeshkar, one of the most celebrated singers in Bollywood, fondly known as the “Nightingale of India,” died on Feb. 6 morning due to multiple organ failure. She was 92. The legendary singer who was admitted to a Mumbai hospital on Jan. 11 after testing positive for Covid-19 had recovered from the deadly virus but her deteriorating condition compelled the doctors to move her on the ventilator once again last week.
In a tribute to her stature, Mangeshkar was given a state funeral with full honors in Mumbai on Feb. 6, attended by politicians, celebrities and actors. Two days of national mourning were declared, with the national flag flying at half-mast, and the Indian cricket team played with black armbands as a mark of respect.
As the country and its media mourned the loss of the veteran singer, the world media joined in and paid homage as well.
The New York Times, in its obituary, called Mangeshkar “a revered figure in India, who “recorded songs for countless films — not appearing on screen herself, but providing characters’ singing voices.” The paper said she “leaves a legacy of tens of thousands of songs, mostly in Hindi but also in several other Indian languages.” She was known “for her range — she could sing in four octaves — and her gift for singing in character, tailoring her voice and emotions to the actress she was voicing on screen,” the obituary noted. Despite being off-screen, the Times noted that Mangeshkar was “far from anonymous” in India. She received the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest honor, in 2001.
The Washington Post said Mangeshkar was “widely referred to as a ‘national treasure’ and the ‘nightingale of Bollywood..” She recorded songs in more than 30 languages and lent her voice to over 1,000 films, the Post said.
The Associated Press, in its obituary, described her as “a legendary Indian singer with a prolific, groundbreaking catalog and a voice recognized by more than a billion people in South Asia.” The AP said “Mangeshkar’s songs, always filled with emotion, were often sad and mostly dealt with unrequited love, but others involved national pride and were used to motivate Indians and the country’s defense forces during times of wars with neighboring Pakistan and China.”
Mangeshkar was born in Indore on Sept. 28, 1929. She first sang at religious gatherings with her father, who was also a trained singer, the AP said. She began learning music at the age of five from her father, Deenanath Mangeshkar, who was active in the world of theater. After her father’s death, the family moved to Mumbai where a teenage Mangeshkar began singing for Marathi movies. She also took bit roles in a few films to support her family but would say later that her heart wasn’t in it. Her big break came in 1949 with the release of a haunting song titled “Aayega Aanewala” for the movie Mahal.
“Few musicians defined versatility like Mangeshkar, who issued her debut song in 1942 for a Bollywood film when she was just 13,” the AP obituary said. “Soon after, she became an icon of Hindi singing, lending her voice to over 5,000 songs in over a thousand Bollywood and regional language films. She sang for Bollywood’s earliest women superstars like Madhubala and Meena Kumari and later went on to give voice to modern divas like Priyanka Chopra.”
The AP said “her career-defining moment” came in the romantic tragedy “Mughal-e-Azam,” released in 1960. “Its soundtrack ‘Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya?’ is considered one of the most memorable in Bollywood films, one that over decades has become an undisputed epitome of love’s often rebellious nature.”
While Mangeshkar dedicated her life to music, she had a passion for cricket and the slot machines of Las Vegas, the BBC reported. “She was also much more than her voice,” the BBC said. “Mangeshkar was a passionate cricket fan and had a love for cars and the slot machines of Vegas. She also rubbed shoulders with some of Bollywood’s brightest stars – and at least one Beatle.”
The Guardian described Mangeshkar as “the singer who defined music and melody for generations in India.”
CNN also paid tribute to the legendary singer talking about her illustrious career. “She gave her voice to the music and lyrics penned by great composers and lyricists of the time like Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman, Gulzar and A.R. Rahman. Music directors stalled their projects to accommodate her tight schedule and composers wrote their music with her voice in mind,” the article read.
In its tribute, Reuters focused on her melodious voice and the impact of her songs on fans. “Her songs motivated millions of Indians during wars with China and Pakistan to pay homage to the defense forces. Some of her songs are used as prayers in temples, shrines and schools.”
Vox examined the reasons why Mangeshkar, “the Indian playback singer who loaned her coy, girlish voice to the heroines of Indian film for more than seven decades,” was an Indian music icon. “Indian cinema is so intertwined with its music — just watch any classic Bollywood film — that a film can be a hit or a bomb depending solely on the catchiness of its songs,” wrote Lavanya Ramanathan. “So directors chased Mangeshkar to breathe life into their Busby Berkeley-esque song-and-dance numbers with her impossible high notes and emotive delivery. The singer, whose voice could stretch an impressive four octaves, is believed to have recorded thousands of songs in more than 30 languages from Hindi to Urdu to Tamil to Bengali, as well as her native Marathi.”
In its obituary, NPR wrote how Mangeshkar’s popularity, “both within the Indian subcontinent and abroad, went on unabated for decades, unrivaled by any other female Bollywood singer with the possible exception of her sister, Asha Bhosle.”
Reuters called Mangeshkar, “one of India’s best known cultural icons and a singer who defined music for generations of her countrymen.”
Vanity Fair highlighted Mangeshkar’s live performances, notably her performance of the patriotic song “Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon” following the Sino-Indian war in 1963, which left Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India with tears.
(Top photo, Lata Mangeshkar with President Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton in 1995.)