Kattassery Joseph Yesudas, or Dasettan as he is affectionately called, is one of India's foremost classical music exponents and playback singers. He was born on 10 January 1940 in Fort Kochi, Kerala to Augustine Joseph, an actor-singer and Alicekutty. His father was his first music teacher.
His official training in music began at the RLV Music College and later continued at the Government Music College in Thiruvananthapuram, where he graduated from with the highest honours. For a short while he trained under Sri Vechur Hari Hara Subramania Iyer and then pursued his advance training in classical music under the legendary maestro Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. Yesudas also underwent a brief training stint with another Carnatic great, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer.
In 1961, he recorded his first song composed by M.B. Sreenivasan, “Jaathi Bhedam Matha Dwesham” for the Malayalam movie “Kalapadugal”. Soon after, he made his debut in Tamil films with “Konjum Kumari”. By the early ‘70s Yesudas had teamed up with several leading lyricists - Vayalar Rama Varma, P. Bhaskaran and Sreekumaran Thampi - and composers - G. Devarajan, M.S. Baburaj, Salil Choudhury, M.S. Viswanathan and Ravi - to become one of the busiest playback singers in the Malayalm film industry.
Yesudas won his first among seven National Film Awards for Best Singer, a record no one has equaled so far, for the song “Manushayn Mathangale Srishtichu” from “Achanum Bappayum” (1972) with music composed by Ravindran. His mellifluous voice rendered various evergreen hits in Malayalam movies through the decades. Salil Choudhury, who composed music for the landmark Malayalam film “Chemmeen”, introduced Yesudas to Bollywood music listeners through the peppy “Janeman Janeman Tere Do Nayan”, a duet with Asha Bhosle in “Choti Si Baat” (1975). His rise to fame in Bollywood came about with a successful partnership with Ravindra Jain, who cast his voice for various hits including “O Goriya Re” from “Naiyya”, “Khushiyan Hi Khushiyan” from “Dulhan Wahi Jo Piya Man Bhaye” and all the songs in “Chitchor”. Ravindra Jain was so touched by the singer’s voice that he said if he could regain his eyesight, Yesudas would be the first face he would like to see.
Renowned for the amount of time he spends in the studio and at practice the music director M.K. Arjunan once noted, “Yesudas stands out as singer on account of his talent, hard work and devotion.” The legendary story of him recording 16 film songs in four different South Indian languages in one single day in 2006 at the AVM Studios in Chennai stands testament to this. Languages are also no bar for this evergreen singer. He has sung in almost all Indian languages and some foreign ones.
A firm believer in the social reformer Shri Narayana Guru’s words, “One caste, one religion and one God for all humans”, Yesudas has recorded many Hindu, Muslim and Christian devotional and spiritual songs. The Ayappa Temple in Sabarimala officially plays Yesudas’ rendering of “Harivarasanam” before the temple closes. To promote the message of peace and brotherhood he collaborated with Ricardo Barrantes to release the concept album “Ahimsa”.
He has been conferred with numerous awards and honorary titles including the Padma Shri in 1975 and Padma Bhushan in 2002. After winning the Kerala State Award for Best Male Singer 16 times between 1969 and 1986, he asked the Kerala state government to not consider him for the awards in order to give opportunities to younger singers. Other male singers won this award for the next six years. Since then Yesudas has won the award 8 more times - a record 24 times in all. Yesudas is the only singer to be bestowed with the title Asthana Gayakan, the official singer of the state of Kerala.