Lata Mangeshkar, one of India’s biggest cultural icons and a singer who defined music and melody for generations across South Asia, has died at the age of 92, her doctor said.
Mangeshkar was hospitalised on January 11 after contracting COVID-19 and, according to Dr Pratit Samdani, she died of “multi-organ failure” at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital on Sunday.
Together with her younger sister Asha Bhonsle – a superstar in her own right – the “Nightingale” Mangeshkar dominated Bollywood music for more than half a century and is considered by many to be the Indian film industry’s greatest-ever playback singer.
Born in Maharashtra on September 28, 1929, Mangeshkar first sang at religious gatherings with her father Deenanath, who was also a trained singer.
In 1942, at the age of 13, she recorded her debut song for a Bollywood film.
After she moved to Mumbai, India’s film capital, she became a star with immense popular appeal, enchanting audiences with her smooth, sharp voice and immortalising Hindi music for decades to come.
‘Gift from God’
Mangeshkar sang more than 5,000 songs in more than 1,000 Bollywood and regional language films, in addition to recording devotional and classical albums. Her oeuvre spanned about 27,000 songs in dozens of languages including English, Russian, Dutch and Swahili.
“My voice is a gift from God,” she once told an interviewer.
“When I sang a lullaby, I became a mother, when it was a romantic song, I was a lover.”
Her songs, always filled with emotion, were often sad and mostly dealt with unrequited love, but others sang of national pride.
She sang for Bollywood’s earliest superstars like Madhubala and Meena Kumari and later went on to give voice to the industry’s modern divas like Priyanka Chopra.
Over the duration of her career, Mangeshkar worked with nearly all of India’s legendary music directors, including the duo Madan Mohan, Naushad, SD Burman, RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and AR Rahman, selling tens of millions of records.
She also won dozens of singing awards, earning her near-saintly status in the Bollywood music industry.
Anirudha Bhattacharjee, an author from Kolkata, said the defining factor of why Mangeskkar appealed to millions of people was “her immaculate voice”.
“It was beyond definition,” he told Al Jazeera. “The feelings she could embody in her songs came to her very naturally … she did not have to work hard – it was a kind of effortless, evergreen singing.”
“Another aspect is whatever she sang could be equated with the divine,” he added. “There has been nobody like her and I don’t think there will be anyone like her in the future.”
Longevity, awards, and quirks
Mangeshkar was not shy about taking a stand when it came to raising her fees or asking for a share of the royalties earned on her songs.
Her longevity and discipline saw her lend her voice to teenage actresses who were 50 years her junior.
Critics complained that her dominance left little room for newer singers to thrive but her audience remained loyal, ensuring that her songs ruled the charts.
She was also known for her quirks, such as never singing with her shoes on and always writing out each song by hand before recording it.
In 2001, she was awarded the Bharat Ratna. India’s highest civilian honour. The government of France conferred on her its highest civilian award, Officier de la Legion d’Honneur, in 2007.
India’s Home Ministry said Mangeshkar will receive a state funeral and the government will observe state mourning with the flag at half-staff through Monday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described her death as a “void in our nation that cannot be filled”.
“The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerise people,” he said in a tweet.
Mangeshkar never married. She is survived by her four siblings, all accomplished singers and musicians.