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M.L. VASANTHAKUMARI (1928-1990)


M. L. Vasanthakumari was a Carnatic singer for film songs in many Indian languages. Along with D. K. Pattammal (q.v.) and M.S. Subbulakshmi (q.v.) she was the third member of the ‘female trinity’ of Carnatic music. Her parents, Kuthanur Ayya Swamy Iyer and Lalithangi, were noted musicians. She went to school in Chennai, and was about to start studying medicine when the great Carnatic maestro G.N. Balasubramaniam heard her sing and persuaded her to become his disciple. Balasubramaniam was a self-taught artiste and he passed on his innovations to Vasanthakumari. He sang ragas in a faster tempo than was then thought the norm, and encouraged her to experiment with melody and rhythm. In 1940 at the age of twelve, she debuted at a concert in Shimla where her mother Lalithangi sang, and two years later Vasanthakumari sang solo at Bangalore. The first 78rpm disc she released caused a sensation. She became particularly known for shifting effortlessly between ragas during a composition. Like her mother, she also sang the songs of Purandardasa, and like her older contemporary D.K. Pattammal she too sang Ragam Thanam Pallavi. After Independence, Vasanthakumari stated to make her name as a playback singer, achieving fame with Manamagal (1951).

Vasanthakumari married a film comedian called Krishnamurthy, but he later suffered facial paralysis and was unable to work. Vasanthakumari threw herself into a punishing concert schedule to make ends meet. Of her children, her daughter K. Srividya alsop learned her mother’s arts, and debuted as a signer at the age of ten. Vasanthakumari took on many disciples and trained them in Carnatic signing. She also taught music at the Rishi Valley School. In 1976, she received an honorary degree from Mysore University and the third highest civilian honour from the Indian Government, the Padma Bhushan. In 1977, she received the Sangita Kalanidhi Award, the highest recognition in Carnatic music.

A.Kanyakumari who had accompanied MLV on violin for almost two decades says, “MLV-akka had a sharp mind and good memory and I have never seen her practice a song or a ragam or for that matter a ragam-tanam-pallavi also before a concert.” Music was in her blood.
 
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