Any account of Indian playback music must start with Lata Mangeshkar. While it is not possible to more than list the most important playback singers, one, because of her supreme stature, merits detailed attention. Born September 28, 1929 in Indore, India, Lata Mangeshkar has been active in all walks of Indian popular and light classical music having sung ghazals, bhajans and pop. She is the supreme voice of popular Indian music, an Indian institution. Her importance rests not solely with her prodigious output. Many of her performances are considered timeless and undatable, although her voice has changed and matured over the years. In effect she sang the soundtrack for millions of Indians' lives. Until the 1991 edition, when her entry disappeared, the Guinness Book of Records listed her as the most recorded artist in the world with not less than 30,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed songs recorded in 20 Indian languages between 1948 and 1987. By 1990 she supposedly had worked on over 2000 film soundtracks as a playback singer — meaning she pre-recorded the songs to which the films' leading ladies lip-synched.
Dinanath Mangeshkar, her father, owned a theatrical company and was a classical singer, a disciple of the Gwalior school, and gave her singing lessons from around the age of five. She also studied with Aman Ali Khan Sahib and later Amanat Khan. Her God-given musical gifts meant that she could master the vocal exercises effortlessly on first pass and from early on she was recognized as being highly gifted musically. Also in the family were brother Hridaynath, a music director, and sisters Meena, Asha (the famed Asha Bhosle), and Usha. Hridaynath's soundtrack work included Lekin... (EMI India CD PMLP 5206) released in 1990 which, keeping it a family affair, placed Lata Mangeshkar well to the fore. Usha also became a playback singer. Only Asha Bhosle's career can compare in any way with her sister's award-strewn output although by 1994 reports were appearing to the effect that Asha Bhosle had overtaken her big sister's output.
Lata Mangeshkar began work as playback singer in the 1940s and grew to become the most famous playback singer of the century. She received her first proper named credit under her own name in actor/director Raj Kapoor's 1949 film Barsaat (the soundtrack from which forms a third of the Barsaat/Aah/Aag album on EMI India CD PMLP 5188). She would sing for every major actress, including Geeta Bali, Nanda, Nargis, Nimmi, Nutan, Padmini, Sadhana and Meena Shorey. The sheer scale of recording activity makes any examination of her life and works impossible in such a confined space.