S.P. Balasubramaniam was born in Konetammapeta in Andhra Pradesh to S.P. Sambanurthy. SPB's father was a musician and a great exponent of Harikatha. He learned to play instruments like harmonium and flute from his father. In 1964, he won the first prize in a competition for amateur singers and got his first opportunity from music director and mentor S.P. Kodandapani who judging at the event.
He made his debut as singer for the Telugu film "Sri Sri Sri Maryada Ramanna" (1967). He recorded his first Tamil song for "Shanthi Nilayam" (1969). His song "Aayiram Nilave Vaa" for MGR in "Aadimai Penn" (1969) became popular and established him in the Tamil film industry. In a career spanning over four decades, SPB has sung songs in all major Indian languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and Assamese. He holds the record of having sung the most number of songs by any playback singer in the world - in 1976, he recorded 23 songs in a single day. His sang for all major composers of his time. In the recent past, his association with A.R. Rahman became a huge success with films like "Roja" (1992), "Pudhiya Mugam" (1993), "Kizhakku Cheemayile" (1993), "Duet" (1994), "Minsara Kanavu" (1997). While he continues to sing to this day, he is a lot less prolific than he used to be.
Although he sang for a few Bollywood films in the 1970s (Hindi films of Southern film housed), SPB's real debut in Hindi films was with "Ek Duje Ke Liye" (1981) for which he received the National Award for Best Male Playback Singer. Despite a successful Bollywood start, the following years didn't anything significant from him, "Saagar" (1985) being a notable exception. SPB saw a second coming in Bollywood when he became Salman Khan's voice for films like "Maine Pyar Kiya" (1989), "Saajan" (1991) and "Hum Aapke Hai Kaun" (1994).
Apart from singing, SPB has also acted in more than 45 films in different languages. He owns a production company called Kodandapani Film Circuits (now Captain Cine Creations) and produces films under this banner. He has also been on television, hosting music shows like "Paadutha Theeyaga" on E-TV, a Kannada show called "Ede Thumbi Haaduvenu" on E-TV Kannada and "Vaanampaadi" on Kalaignar TV.
SPB got his first National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer in 1980 for "Shankarabharanam" (Telugu). He has won 6 National Awards for the Best Male Playback Singer. He is the only playback singer in India to have won National Film Awards across four languages. He has won three Filmfare Awards (South) and numerous State Awards too. SPB received the Padmashri in 2001 and Padma Bhushan in 2011.