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Best and Most Popular Bollywood Playback Singers

Chitrangada loves the richness of Indian art, culture and traditions. As a writer, she wants to spread information about Indian culture.

Chauhan performing at Times of India Film Awards, 2013

Chauhan performing at Times of India Film Awards, 2013

What Is a Playback Singer?

A playback singer is a singer whose singing is recorded earlier for use in movies. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and actors or actresses lip-sync the songs for cameras, while the actual singer does not appear on screen.

Music is an essential part of the Indian culture. Whether it‘s a wedding celebration, baby birth, a festival, or any kind of celebration or special occasion, it's not complete without music. Therefore, it's not surprising that India has given us some of the best playback singers in the history of cinema.

Here is a tribute to some of the legendary singers of Indian cinema, especially Hindi cinema. Playback songs are very important in Hindi cinema. Therefore, the playback singers have an important role in the success of a film. In fact, musicals are so beloved in India that the mere presence of music gives a film a better chance of being successful.

The singers below are some of my all time favorites, but there are many more worth mentioning.

Popular Playback Singers of Hindi Cinema

  • Mohammed Rafi
  • Lata Mangeshkar
  • Mukesh
  • Geeta Dutt
  • Kishore Kumar
  • Asha Bhonsle
  • Alka Yagnik
  • Udit Narayan
  • Sonu Nigam
  • Sunidhi Chauhan
  • Shreya Ghoshal
  • Shaan

Muhammed Rafi live concert, source: YouTube

Mohammed Rafi

Born: December 24th, 1924, in Kotla Sultan Singh, Punjab, British India (present-day Punjab, India)

Mohammed Rafi was the most popular male playback singer. He has sung many beautiful songs in a variety of regional languages. He was truly unique in his ability to mold his voice according to the character he was singing for in the film. He has sung numerous hits songs. Whether he's singing romantic songs, ghazals, devotional songs, qawwallis, or anything else, Rafi is an absolute genius. Some people call him the pioneer of male playback singing.

Lata Mangeshkar

Born: Hema Mangeshkar on September 28th, 1929 (age 90), in Indore, Indore State, Central India Agency, British India (present-day Madhya Pradesh, India)

Lata Mangeshkar is the most prominent, respected, and loved female playback singer. She is truly a living legend. She is also referred to as the Nightingale of India and her career in the music industry has spanned over seven decades.

She has sung in many regional languages and worked with nearly every single music composer in the Hindi film industry. Her songs touch your soul. This is why she was awarded India's highest civilian honor, The Bharat Ratna.

Mukesh live performance, source: YouTube

Mukesh

Born: Mukesh Chand Mathur on July 22nd, 1923, in Delhi, British India (present-day Delhi, India)

Mukesh is another playback singer from the golden era of Hindi cinema. He had a truly unique voice. His sad songs manage to stir up the audience's emotions like no one else. Some of his songs are truly immortal. Over the course of his career, Mukesh has won many national awards.

Geeta Dutt song, source: YouTube

Geeta Dutt

Born: Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri on November 23rd, 1930, in Idilpur, Madaripur Subdivision, Bengal Presidency, British India (present-day Shariatpur District, Dhaka Division, Bangladesh)

Geeta Dutt is another legendary playback singer. She was known for her youthful and melodious voice. She sung some of the most memorable songs from Bollywood's golden era. Young people were crazy about her Bengali songs. These romantic tunes struck a chord with audiences all across india. She has sung for some great Bengali music composers, such as Hemant Kumar, Nachiketa Ghosh, S.D.Burman, and others. She died young, but her songs are still favorites among fans of the Hindi film industry.

Kishore Kumar live performance, source: YouTube

Kishore Kumar

Born: Abhas Kumar Ganguly on August 4th, 1929, in Khandwa, Central Provinces, British India (present-day Madhya Pradesh, India)

Kishore Kumar is loved by both old and new generations of music lovers. He was an actor, singer, lyricist, director, and writer all in one. He has sung in more than ten Indian regional languages. Some music critics think that he is one of the most versatile singers of all time. His songs had the power to make you sad, happy, or enthusiastic. His range was truly incredible. In recognition of his talent, he was awarded the Filmfare award many times. He's one of the most successful playback singers of all time.

Asha Bhonsle

Born: Asha Mangeshkar on September 8th, 1933 (age 86), in Goar, Sangli, Sangli State, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Maharashtra, India)

Asha Bhonsle is renowned for her versatile singing. Age has certainly not dulled her enthusiasm for singing. She's still popular today—even after a six decades of performing! Her range is incredible. She always managed to hit every note perfectly—even though she sung in more than twenty languages!

She has won many national and International awards and holds the "Guinness book of World Records" record for being the most recorded artist in music history.

Alka Yagnik

Born: March 20th, 1966 (age 54), in Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Blessed with a sweet voice, Alka is trained in classical music. Her technique is truly incredible. She haolds the record for most Filmfare awards won. She has also been awarded other national award and international awards.

Over a career spanning more than three decades, she has sung for almost all of the most prominent music composers in Bollywood. Twenty of her tracks feature in BBC's "Top 40 Bollywood Soundtracks of All Time."

Udit Narayan

Born: Udit Narayan Jha on December 1st, 1955 (age 64), in Baisi, Supaul district, Bihar, India

Udit Narayan is a contemporary male playback singer. He's originally from Nepal, but found success when he entered the music industry in India. He is versatile, singing across many different genres, including pop, devotional, folk, ghazal, etc.

With more than twenty five thousand songs, in various languages, he has sung for more than 50 music composers. He has an impressive number of musical hits and awards in various languages other than Hindi.

Udit Narayan song, source: YouTube

Sonu Nigam

Born: July 30th, 1973 (age 46), in Faridabad, Haryana, India

Since his voice resembled the legendary Mohammed Rafi, it took Sonu Nigam some time to establish himself in the Hindi film industry. But later, he managed to create a his own unique distinct style of singing, which brought him incredible success in the industry. He's a major inspiration to today's young singers.

Sunidhi Chauhan

Born: Nidhi Chauhan on August 14th, 1983 (age 36), in New Delhi, India

Many critics consider Sunidhi Chauhan the number one female playback singer today. Time and again she has proven herself to be a talented and versatile singer. Her live performances are truly amazing. Like her predecessors, she has also sung in many Indian languages and with many of India's most prominent music directors.

Shreya Ghoshal

Born: March 12th, 1984 (age 36), in Berhampore, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India

Shreya Ghoshal is one of today's most famous playback singers. A Bengali by birth, she sings her award-winning songs in both Bengali and Hindi. She's prolific, working with nearly all of today's most prominent music directors.

After winning a national award for her first film, Devdas, she went on to become a successful and popular singer. Her music has won her many awards and international honors. She performs her live shows to both Indian and international audiences.

Shaan

Born: September 30th, 1972 (age 47), in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India

Shaan is one of the most popular playback singers in Bollywood. He is versatile, singing songs in many different genres, including pop songs, ghazals, hip-hop songs, rock songs, etc. He has sung songs in many languages, including Kannada, Bengali, Punjabi, Nepali, English, Hindi, Oriya, Malayalam, and Marathi. He has been given many titles, such as, "Golden Voice of India" and "Voice of youth.' and has won many Filmfare awards as well.

© 2014 Chitrangada Sharan

Comments

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on January 12, 2016:

Thank you Linda, for reading and commenting on this hub!

Glad you liked the hub!

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on January 10, 2016:

Fabulous tribute to your favorite singers! :)

R P Sinha on August 01, 2015:

After posting an earlier comment, I noticed that the title of the article is 'My Top Favourite...' and also that you are a general writer and not a musicologist. I cannot force you to change your favourites. However the point made in my comments remains valid.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on June 23, 2015:

Thank you R P Sinha ji, for your comments!

Yes you are right in mentioning K.L.Saigal. I admire him also , but this list was written in view of the general popular singers, with whom everyone, young and the not so young can relate to.

There are many more wonderful singers in the industry, about whom I would love to write. But they can not be covered in one single article.

Thanks for your feedback!

R P Sinha on June 22, 2015:

How can you forget K L Saigal, the grandfather of all film singers who is still held in awe ?

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on March 27, 2015:

Thank you Sunilkunnothji, for your kind visit and appreciation of this hub!

I am glad you liked it. I love Indian music and these singers have given some wonderful memorable songs. Their magical effect will always remain.

Thanks for your votes and share!

Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on March 26, 2015:

Very interesting and nostalgic. Really enjoyed reading your post since the topic is of my great passion for me personally. Voted up and shared.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on December 06, 2014:

Thank you aviannovice, for reading and appreciating!

All of them are great legends in the field of music. Music is an integral part of Indian culture.

Glad you liked this hub!

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on December 05, 2014:

This is wonderful material that taught me a lot. I heard the name Kishore KJumar, but had no idea who he was until now.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 27, 2014:

Thank you Susan Recipes, for your visit and support!

Glad to know they are your favorites too!

Susan from India on November 27, 2014:

All of them are my favorite and I have a huge collection of their wonderful golden songs.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 17, 2014:

Thank you Nell Rose, for your kind visit!

Playback singing is an essential part of Indian cinema, as music and dance is an important part of Indian culture. And cinema is a reflection of society, people relate with it.

Thanks and have a good day!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 17, 2014:

Thank you manatita44, for coming back!

I admire your knowledge about India. Thanks again!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 17, 2014:

Thank you Dilip Chanraji, for your kind visit and positive comments!

I am glad you liked this hub and we all love these great musical artists.

Thanks!

Nell Rose from England on November 15, 2014:

Hi, I was aware that some singers were in the background so to speak, but never realised that they were called playback singers, interesting hub, and I learned something new! thanks, nell

manatita44 from london on November 14, 2014:

Yes. The school of Bannya, Shura Dhara, run for young singers of Rabindranath's music, etc. We have performed with some of them in India. I was not there, but some members of our Centres were. Super excellent singers. Thanks for the bit on the Hindi alphabet.

Dilip Chandra from India on November 14, 2014:

So nice to see this list, i have all their songs - most i must say, in my collection. Good read this is, thank you friend.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you Eiddwen, for your kind visit and appreciation!

Glad you liked it!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you Jodah, for your kind visit and comments!

Playback singing is an integral part of Indian cinema and these singers are most respected celebrities.

Thanks again!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you Harishprasadji, for your visit and appreciation!

Glad you liked this effort and I have noted your request of writing a hub about great Indian male actors in future.

Thanks again for your support!

Eiddwen from Wales on November 14, 2014:

A great hub; very well presented and so interesting. Eddy.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on November 14, 2014:

Very interesting Chitrangada. I have also never heard of playback singers so you have enlightened me. Thank you for sharing about these talented performers.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on November 14, 2014:

Hindi film songs are like part of our life. It happens sometimes that we are in a sombre or cheerful mood, and a song relevant to that mood comes to our lips. At other times, a same song flashes in the minds of two guys at a moment, and they both start singing that song. These songs have such a great impact on our minds. ChitrangdaSharan, I love this hub. You have mentioned such admirable, lovable and very popular. singers. Voted up. PS: I still wait for a hub on great male actors of Hindi Cinema. Looking forward to read that as well.

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you Nithya, for your visit and appreciation!

Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi are all time favorites. The new singers you mentioned do lot of experiments and give live performances as well. I have mentioned few of them, but I am sure you must have enjoyed, the singing of other newcomers as well.

Thanks again for voting up!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you Ericdierker, for reading the hub and appreciating it!

I am glad to see your interest and you can get to listen to some of the songs by these wonderful singers on You tube.

Thanks!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 14, 2014:

Thank you manatita44, for your wonderful feedback!

Glad to learn that you are already familiar with these wonderful vocalists.

You are right Asha Bhonsle is the younger sister of Lata Mangeshkar.

Bhonsle has an 'ang matra' in it as per Hindi alphabet; or you can say half 'n' and that is why it has such spelling.

Ashaji is a versatile singer and has sung in many genres. Her voice has so much range and variation that its difficult to copy her even by good singers.

Lataji has a divine kind of voice and both sisters are awesome and an institution in itself.

Yes, I do understand Bengali and can speak a little bit as well. We used to sing Rabindra Sangeet in our school days.

I have mentioned few singers in this hub but there are so many of them, trained in classical music or even otherwise.

Thanks for your interest in this hub! Om Shanti!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 13, 2014:

Thank you billybuc, for your visit and comments!

Playback singing is popular in India, because people love music in films. In fact the music of the film is released before the film is released.

Thanks for your interest on this topic!

Chitrangada Sharan (author) from New Delhi, India on November 13, 2014:

Thank you Devika, for your visit and support!

Your comments are much appreciated.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 13, 2014:

Great hub and fantastic singers show cased. I love Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi. Shreya Ghosal has the voice of an angel and Sunidhi Chauhan has a great range and is more powerful. It is a treat to listen to all of their songs. Great write, voted up.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 13, 2014:

Very interesting and brand new to me, I would like to listen to some so I get the sound. Thanks

manatita44 from london on November 13, 2014:

Dear Chitrangada.

Another beautiful and necessary one. Done so well! I know most of them. My favourites! I must be old (smile).

Actually Lata I followed for many years! A total genius and one sent by God. Correct me here, but I believe Asha Bhosle (My spelling is different from yours) was said to be Lata's younger sister, and better, by some.

Mohammed Rafi is one of my favourites on devotionals. I also liked Raj and Shashi Kapoor. These days I listen to Snatam Kaur and another Menaka Kaur, both Sikhs.

Do you speak Bengali? I know over a 1000 songs, and Sri Chinmoy, my Guru, wrote over 24, 000 songs with about 8000 in English. The rest are in Bengali.

Lots of love to you and keep bringing us in the West India's ageless and timeless message of beauty and and of Love. Om Shanti!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 13, 2014:

Oddly I have never heard of a playback singer. Very interesting read. Thanks for teaching me something.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 13, 2014:

I enjoyed the enlightening read. Going down memory lane was a great idea.