Talented yet unfortunate, Suman Hemmadi was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh into a Saraswat Konkani family and moved to Mumbai in 1943. Surrounded by music and arts, she enrolled for a course in Fine Arts at JJ School of Art, but had to drop out after developing an allergy to paints. This was when she turned to music and began singing on radio. She got married to a Mumbai businessman during this period and started getting credited as Suman Kalyanpur.
Her debut as a playback singer started with Marathi films. She made her debut in Hindi films with “Mangu” (1954). However, when the original music director Mohammed Shafi was replaced by O.P. Nayyar, all her songs except one - “Koi Pukare Dheere Se Tujhe” - were rejected. As a result, Suman never sang for O.P. Nayyar in her entire career. Luckily for her, another song - “Ek Dil Do Hain Talabgaar” (“Darwaza”, 1954) - brought her to notice. Offers started coming in and she was a much sought-after singer in the late 1950s.
If the 50s got her noticed, the 60s brought her fame as some of her most recognized work came in this period. Songs like “Na Tum Humein Jano” (“Baat Ek Raat Ki”, 1962) and “Mere Mehboob Na Ja” (“Noor Mahal”, 1964) were loved by all but also mistaken by many to be Lata Mangeshkar songs. Strangely, this had a negative impact on her career as her choice as as a singer came to be seen as a choice against Lata. Given Lata’s dominance in Hindi film music at that time, producers and music directors gave her a wide berth. Over time, Suman became more popular as a duet singer and sang songs like - “Na Na Karte Pyar” (“Jab Jab Phool Khile”, 1965) and “Mera Pyar Bhi Tu Hai” (“Saathi”, 1968).
Suman continued to sing for films through the 1970s but wasn’t as prolific as other singers. As she has said in interviews, this could have been due to a number of reasons. Her husband, who supported her singing career, fell ill and needed her support. She also avoided certain kinds of songs, like mujras and cabaret songs, considering the sensibilities of her family and also because she didn’t feel she could do justice to these songs. She curtailed her singing significantly after 1979 and completely stopped singing for films in 1983.
She continued to sing for independent albums, mainly bhajans. In 2009, she was awarded, ironically, the Lata Mangeshkar Award by the Government of Maharashtra.