Lata Mangeshkar was born in Indore in a Maharashtrian family. Her father, Master Deenanath Mangeshkar, was a reputed classical singer and theatre actor. Lata and her siblings Meena, Asha, Usha and Hridayanath, grew up in an environment steeped in music. Lata’s talent was evident at an early age. She started taking music lessons from her father at the age of five, gave her first concert at the age of nine and started acting and singing in her father’s plays thereafter.
After her father’s death in 1942, Lata became financially responsible for her family with support from family friend and film-maker Master Vinayak. She started acting in Marathi and Hindi films. Lata also started taking music lessons from Ustad Aman Ali Khan and Pandit Tulsidas Sharma after she moved to Mumbai in 1945. It was during this period that Lata got a chance to work in the film “Badi Ma” (1945) starring Noor Jehan, and became a fan of the singer-actor. Noor Jehan’s influence on Lata can be seen in the early Lata songs.
After Master Vinayak’s death in 1948, music director Ghulam Haider took her under his wings. Brushing aside a producer’s critique of Lata’s “thin” voice, Ghulam Haider had Lata sing to his music in “Majboor” (1948). She slowly won over the leading composers like Naushad and Anil Biswas and in 1950, captured the nation’s imagination with Khemchand Prakash’s “Aayega Aanewala” (“Mahal”).
The rise of classical music in Hindi films in the early 50s bode well for Lata because, there was no other female singer that could match her prowess in this genre of music. That said, the highlight of her career in the early 50s was probably her collaboration with the music director C. Ramchandra, exemplified best by her songs in “Anarkali” (1953). Unfortunately their relationship became strained in the late 1950s and the magic of the early 50s could not be re-created. However, they would come together again in 1962 when Lata sang the song “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon” composed by C. Ramchandra for Pandit Nehru. Lata’s growing influence in the 1950s is best understood by the story behind her first Filmfare Award for Best Playback Singer for “Aaja Re Pardesi” (“Madhumati”, 1958). 1958 was the year Filmfare instituted the Best Playback Singer award, bowing to Lata’s boycott of the award functions! The other significant highlight of the 1950s was her tiff with music director S.D. Burman in 1957 that resulted in them not working together for the next 6 years.
In 1960s, Lata’s work with Madan Mohan deserves special mention. She bestowed on him the title of “Ghazal King” and he reserved his best songs for Lata. It is for Madan Mohan that she sang gems like "Aap Ki Nazron Ne Samjha" (“Anpadh”, 1962), "Naina Barse Rim Jhim" (“Woh Kaun Thi”, 1964) and "Tu Jahan Jahan Chalega" (“Mera Saaya”, 1966). She also ended her rift with S.D. Burman in 1963 and sang for him in the super-hit films “Guide” (1965) and “Jewel Thief” (1967).
While she remained a force to reckon in the 1970s, she conceded ground to her sister Asha Bhosle, who was favored by the R.D. Burman, who dominated Hindi film music in that decade. Still Lata remained even R.D. Burman’s pick for certain songs. Asha did not figure in two Lata - Pancham classics in this decade - “Amar Prem” (1972) and “Aandhi” (1975). Lata also worked extensively with Laxmikant - Pyarelal during this period.
She may have been past her prime in the 1980s and 1990s but still managed to string together an impressive body of work with films like “Ram Teri Ganga Maili” (1985), “Lekin” (1990), “Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge” (1995), “Dil Se” (1998) and “Veer Zaara” (2004) which had Lata singing for her favorite music director, Madan Mohan, after his death (Madan Mohan’s son adapted his father’s compositions for the film).
Lata has won several awards in her long career, most importantly, the Padma Bhushan (1969), Padma Vibhushan (1999), Dada Saheb Phalke Award (1989) and the Bharat Ratna (2001). She has also won several national and regional awards for playback singing.
In a career spanning more than 60 years, Lata has sung in several regional languages and appeared in the Guiness Book Of World Records between 1974 and 1991 for having the most number of recordings. The entry was contested and eventually removed. That statistic was not accurate. It also did not represent Lata’s immeasurable contribution to Hindi film music.