Bollywood is the informal name given to Hindi-language cinema, the Mumbai-based film industry. Indian film has a rich history that has always included a strong musical component. These Hindi vocalists have sung thousands of songs in dozens of languages, a feat that most of us can only imagine.
1. Mukesh Chand Mathur
Mukesh Chand Mathur, known more popularly simply as Mukesh, was one of the most ubiquitous playback singers in Indian cinema throughout the 20th century. His voice has been featured in countless films, including some of the most popular in the Hindi film industry. Over the course of his career, he earned many awards, particularly the National Film Award For Best Male Playback Singer for his performance on 1974’s Rajnigandha. In addition to singing, he was also a skilled voice actor.
2. Kishore Kumar
Kishore Kumar was a playback singer noted not just for his singing talents but also his unique yodeling ability and his ability to change his voice at will. In addition to singing for countless films, he also released several albums, which were exceedingly popular.
He recorded in Hindi and also performed in Bengali, Gujarati, and Urdu, among many other languages. He broke records for the number of Filmfare Awards he won during his career; there is now a government Kishore Kumar Award for contributions to Hindi cinema.
3. Udit Narayan
Udit Narayan is an Indian playback singer whose fame has spread beyond the limits of Bollywood. Over the course of his career, he has won a huge number of awards for his contributions to Hindi cinema, though he has also recorded songs in many other languages. After the release of his track Papa Hehte Khan in 1988, he became the singer of choice for Indian filmmakers throughout the following decades. He has also been honored by the King of Nepal for his work.
4. Mohit Chauhan
Mohit Chauhan has had a long and successful career as a playback singer, but he is also one of the most famous Indipop performers of all time. After being a part of the Silk Route band, he began a career in film music. He immediately won acclaim, earning a Filmfare Award in 2010. In 2009, he recorded four singles that would go on to become hit songs, establishing him as one of the strongest singers in Bollywood.
5. Neha Kakkar
Neha Kakkar has been a singer since she was young, but it wasn’t until 2005, when she appeared on Indian Idol, that her professional career took off. Though she was eliminated early in the competition, she would later return as a judge after singing in many acclaimed Bollywood films. She is one of the most globally-recognized Bollywood singers and has earned attention as the first Indian artist to be given a YouTube Diamond Certification. Her 2016 song Mile Ho Tum is the most-viewed Bollywood song on the platform.
6. Shankar Mahadevan
Unlike many other Bollywood stars, Shankar Mahadevan didn’t start his career in film. Instead, he started as an Indipop singer in the 1990s, gaining popularity for his unique musical style that fused both Indian and Western influences. In addition to his work as a musician, actor, and playback singer, he is also a talented composer. He has released two highly-successful solo albums, Nine and Breathless.
7. Noor Jehan
Noor Jehan was one of the most prolific and influential Indian playback singers of early Hindi cinema. She recorded an astonishing 20,000 songs over the course of her career, earning the title Queen of Melody. In addition to her vocal talent, she had the unique ability to combine classic and contemporary musical genres. She has also been called the first female Pakistani film director for her work in 1951’s Chan Wey. She enjoyed a long career in acting before turning to singing, so she can give herself more time with her family.
8. K. S. Chithra
K. S. Chithra is an Indian playback singer and Carnatic musician. Over her four-decade career, she has come to be regarded as a cultural icon, particularly in the southern states of India. She has won a huge number of awards for her work in both film and music, including some of the highest civilian honors in India. After studying Carnatic music, she began recording for films beginning in the 1970s. She has recorded more than 25,000 songs in a wide variety of languages.
9. Kailash Kher
Kailash Kher’s career began in the early 2000s, composing and singing jingles for Indian ads. However, he soon branched into playback singing and gained attention for his unique musical style, which combines elements of Indian folk music and Sufi devotional music. He has been praised not just for his use of folk language and devotional songs in his work but also for his versatile, rich voice. He is now counted among the most popular playback singers in India.
10. Mohammed Rafi
Mohammed Rafi has been called one of the most important and influential playback singers in early Indian cinema. His career spanned from the 1940s to his death in 1980. He lent his voice to many films and was known for his ability to match the speech patterns of the actors on screen. Over the course of his career, he recorded roughly 7,000 songs in many different languages. He received many awards for his work, including some of the highest civilian honors in India.
11. Shantanu Mukherjee
Shantanu Mukherjee, better known as Shaan, is one of the most respected and successful Indian playback singers of the 21st century. In addition to his work as a singer, he has also had a prominent career on Indian television, including as a coach on The Voice India. His career began in singing jingles before branching into music as a collaborator with his sister Sagarika, also a successful singer. He eventually began recording solo albums and has become known as a go-to voice actor for Indian cinema.
12. Alka Yagnik
Alka Yagnik is one of the most famous female singers in Bollywood. Over the course of her career, she has recorded more than 8,000 songs, winning countless film and music awards. She has become well-known outside of Bollywood as well; in early 2022, she was number one on YouTube’s Top Global Artists. Her sweet voice and prolific recording career have earned her the nickname Queen of Playback Singing.
13. Sunidhi Chauhan
Sunidhi Chauhan began her singing career at the age of just 13 when she performed in the movie, Shastra. Later that same year, she won a singing reality show, cementing her as one of the most talented young artists in Bollywood. While still a teenager, she won a Filmfare RD Burman Award. Over the course of her career, she has recorded many albums and added her voice to countless films. She is known for her ability to change her voice at a whim.
14. Krishnakumar Kunnath
Krishnakumar Kunnath, known popularly as KK, was a versatile and respected playback singer whose career spanned from the 1990s to the 2020s. Amazingly, he did not have any musical training; he was notoriously shy in front of a camera and preferred to provide his voice rather than his face. This did not stop him from releasing a bevy of hit songs throughout the 2000s and receiving countless awards for his work in music and film.
15. Arijit Singh
Since 2005, Arijit Singh has established himself as one of the foremost playback singers in Indian cinema. His fame has spread beyond his home country; in 2020 and 2021, he was the most-streamed and most-followed Indian musician on Spotify. His musical style has been heavily influenced by both classical Indian music and Western composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. He studied Indian classical music in an effort to revitalize it in the modern film and music industries.
16. Sukhwinder Singh
Sukhwinder Singh is perhaps best known as the singer of Jai Ho from 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, which won an Academy Award and a Grammy Award. But his career in Bollywood is varied and extensive. He first gained widespread attention for his performance of Chaiyya Chaiyya in the 1998 film Dil Se… It remains one of his best-known songs. In addition to his much-acclaimed singing career, he has also appeared on Indian reality television shows.
17. Talat Mahmood
Talat Mahmood was a prolific and influential playback singer throughout the early days of Indian cinema. Unlike most playback singers, he did not venture much into acting. He was known for his gentle, smooth voice; he was particularly talented at singing ghazals, a form of Arabic poetry-based music. In fact, he has been credited with popularizing ghazals in contemporary Indian music. He was also known for singing mournful love ballads, which became one of his signature styles.
18. Lucky Ali
Lucky Ali is the professional name of Maqsood Mahmood Ali, one of the most popular singers of modern Indipop. He began working as a playback singer in the late 1970s, helped by his connections in Bollywood. His solo career began in the mid-1990s with the release of his first album, which won critical acclaim. Despite his talent, he has never received any professional musical training; he relies on a unique vocal style that has become his trademark.
19. Kavita Krishnamurthy
Kavita Krishnamurthy is not just a prolific singer but also a highly-educated classical musician. She began her career studying Hindustani classical music. While still in university, she began singing in films and achieved moderate success as both a playback singer and a dubbing artist. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that she made her big breakthrough with 1942: A Love Story. She has toured around the world and collaborated with artists in Western genres as well as recorded more than 50,000 songs in 45 Indian tongues.
20. Lata Mangeshkar
Lata Mangeshkar was a queen of Bollywood music throughout the 20th century. Her work earned her the nicknames Nightingale of India and Queen of Melody. Her eight-decade career led to countless film, music, and Lifetime Achievement awards, and even a Guinness World Record for being the most-recorded female artist between the 1940s and 1980s. In addition to her career as a singer, she was a music director, producer, and composer. She passed away in February 2022, at the age of 92, from complications of COVID-19.
21. Geeta Dutt
Geeta Dutt was a Hindi and Bengali classical musician and playback singer who was one of the biggest names in mid-century Indian cinema. She began her career at the age of 16 and enjoyed success in both film and music, releasing several solo albums throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Her career suffered a setback in the late 1960s due to the end of her marriage and alcohol addiction. She revitalized her work for several years in the late 1060s and early 1970s before passing away in 1972.
22. Asha Bhosle
Talent clearly runs in Asha Bhosle’s family; she is the sister of legendary Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar. Her eight-decade career has earned her some of the highest awards in Indian cinema and culture as well as two Grammy nominations. She is renowned for her rich soprano voice and unique vocal versatility, which has lent itself to countless musical styles. She has also won a Guinness World Record for being the most-recorded female solo artist; she has recorded more than 12,000 songs over her career.
23. Shreya Ghoshal
Shreya Ghoshal is a contemporary Indian playback singer who began studying classical music when she was just six years old. While still a teenager, she gained attention after winning a reality singing competition, after which she began a career in Bollywood. She has been praised for her singing range and versatility, for which she credits her classical music training. Though she has been offered acting roles, she has declined, preferring to remain in the music industry.
24. Sonu Nigam
Sonu Nigam is a singer and actor known for his work as a playback singer in both Hindi and Kannada Cinema. His vocal styles and talents have earned him the nickname Modern Rafi, a nod to legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi. This is a compliment to Nigam, who has long idolized the late singer and began his career covering his songs at weddings and other events. He began his career in the 1990s as both a solo artist and a playback singer; since then, he has also worked in film and reality television.
25. Kumar Sanu
Kumar Sanu’s prolific career has earned him the nickname King of Melody. He has broken records for winning the most consecutive Filmfare Awards and is one of the most recognized voices in Bollywood. He has collaborated with many of Bollywood’s most famous singers, including Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Sunidhi Chauhan, and many others. In 2009, he was awarded one of the highest civilian honors in India for his work in Indian Cinema.
26. Jagjit Singh
Jagjit Singh was a composer and singer who has been credited with revitalizing and repopularizing some forms of traditional Indian music in the modern music industry. After moderate success for several decades, he became extremely popular after releasing a collaborative album with his wife in 1977. When his career moved to playback singing, he not only provided vocals but also composed much of the music for the films he acted in.
27. A. R. Rahman
A. R. Rahman is an internationally-renowned singer and composer. He has worked most extensively in Hindi and Tamil Cinema, but his work in the international film circuit has earned him more awards than almost any other Indian musician. Most of his work has been in scoring films both in Bollywood and Hollywood, including Slumdog Millionaire. He is also a talented and respected singer in the Indian film industry.
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