S. Janaki (born April 23, 1938), having sung in many Indian languages has, in a career spanning five decades, amassed four National Awards and 35 State Awards. Fondly known as “The Nightingale of South India”, Janaki in association with S.P. Balasubramaniam and composer Ilaiyaraja has created some spectacular music.
Born into a Telugu Brahmin family in Palapatla in Guntur district (in the then Madras Presidency, now a part of Andhra Pradesh), she began performing music at the age of three. Her interest in music was nurtured by her teacher, the nadaswaram maestro, Sree Paidiswamy. Following her uncle’s advice, she moved to Chennai to join AVM Studios as a singer. P. Susheela’s contract with AVM had ended and they were looking for a fresh voice and Janaki impressed everyone at the interview. In 1956, she was the recipient of the second prize at an All India Radio competition and received the award from the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Her career as a singer in films began with music director T. Chalapati Rao in the Tamil movie “Vidhiyin Vilayattu” (1957). Then she lent her voice to the Telugu movie “MLA” (1957). An experimental song “Singaravelane Deva” (“Konjum Salangai”,Tamil, 1958) brought her recognition. It didn’t take long for for her popularity to soar after that. By the seventies, Janaki had evolved as the most preferred singer in South India and music director Ilayaraja’s favourite. Through the eighties and the nineties she sang in most major South Indian movie.
With fluent grasp of both Tamil and Telugu she has written many songs in these languages. She has sung in several other languages including Malayalam and Hindi.
In 2013, the Government of India awarded S. Janaki the Padma Bhushan but she rejected it because it was too little and too late.
Janaki lives in Chennai with her family.