One may rightly call it a heavenly union, just thinking of Dr. K. J. Yesudas and music. Keralites wake-up and go to sleep with his mellifluous voice; a voice that has over the years become a permanent identity to music lovers of Kerala belonging to all age groups. A rare personality in the socio-cultural life of Kerala, Dr. K. J. Yesudas had a humble beginning to his career as a musician, which later paved the way for greater glories in future. And he did so, in a manner that was hard to emulate by his contemporaries. He belongs to an elite few in the realm of music with an iconic status in India and in the world.
Kattassery Joseph Yesudas was born on January 10, 1940 in Fort Kochi, the ancient port city of Kerala. His desire to become an accomplished musician took wings at a very young age. It was none other than his father Mr. Augustine Joseph Bhagavathor, a well-known malayalam classical musician and stage actor of his time, taught young Yesudas the rudiments of music. Taking his first lessons in Carnatic music at the tender age of five from his father, Yesudas later learned music under other teachers in and around Cochin, from whom he received valuable guidance to progress further. During his school days at the St. Sebastian's High School, Cochin, Yesudas was the top singer for several consecutive years. In 1957, he stood first in the state level school youth festival in Carnatic vocal singing.
On completing school, Yesudas in pursuit of realizing his musical aspirations joined the R. L. V. Music Academy, Thripunithura near Cochin for the Ganabhooshanam course. He completed the course with a double promotion and distinction in 1960. He later joined the Sree Swathithirunal Music Academy in Trivandrum for higher studies. His debut in film songs came through the Malayalam movie 'Kaalpadukal' on November 14, 1961. Since then, he strode like a colossus in the field of Malayalam playback singing and saw him render equally good impact in other Indian languages like Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi. Dr. K. J. Yesudas now has to his credit around 30,000 songs, which is a rare and phenomenal feat for a musician.
In the early eighties Dr. K. J. Yesudas established a music company called Tharangini Music, which became the first recording centre in Kerala from where Malayalam film songs on audio cassettes came out. Throughout his outstanding career as a musician and for his contributions to music, many honours and recognitions came his way. The prestigious national honour of Padmasree was bestowed on Dr. K. J. Yesudas in the year 1973. He has won the State Award for playback singing for a record 16 times since 1970. Some of the other notable awards and honours received by him include the 'Sangeetha Raja' award in 1974, the 'Sangeetha Chakravarthy' award in 1988 and the 'Sangeetha Sagaram' award in 1989. He is also the recipient of the best playback singer award from the governments of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The Annamalai University honored him with a Doctorate in 1989.
The Government of Kerala and the 'Sangeeta Nataka Akademi' conferred the title of 'Aashtana Gayakan' (Singer Laureate) to Yesudas in 1992. He has received six national awards for playback singing. Music has also made Dr. K. J. Yesudas think and strive for universal peace and brotherhood. In the past he has taken initiatives to mend differences in the society, uplift the spirit of those who have lost hope. He also led from the front in supporting our brave men and women guarding the nation's frontiers during the Indo-Pak war of 1965, when he sang at various centers to raise funds for the war efforts. And again in 1971, during the Bangladesh war, he toured throughout Kerala to raise fund to help the nation to tide over the crisis. In his illustrious singing career so far, Dr. K. J. Yesudas was invited to give concerts of film songs in every town and village of Kerala and also in every city and town in every part of India and overseas. He has performed in almost every major city in the world and has sung in many Indian languages.
In 1965, he was invited by the Russian Government to perform as a cultural delegate in various parts of Russia. He sang a Russian song over Radio Kazakhstan, which was widely appreciated by local fans. One of India's foremost exponents of classical music and leading playback singer in all-Indian languages, his concerts and film songs continue to captivate millions of listeners at home and abroad.