Usha Uthup is a very popular Indian pop, jazz and playback singer. Usha Uthup was born in Mumbai as Usha Iyer on November 8th, 1947. She belonged to a Tamil Brahmin family hailing from Madras. Her father Sami Iyer was a police commissioner in Mumbai. She has three sisters (Sami Sisterts), who are also singers and two brothers. As a child, she was not encouraged to pursue music in school as her voice did not fall into the conventional bracket of singing.
Though Usha did not get any formal training in music, she grew up in a family which appreciated a wide range of music from Western classical to Hindustani and Carnatic. Her neighbor inspired Usha to learn Hindi and take up Indian Classical music. Her approach to fusion in music enabled her to become one of the pioneers of Indian pop in the 1970’s. She sang in public for the first time when she was nine years old. Her sisters introduced her to Ameen Sayani who gave her an opportunity to sing on the Ovaltine Music Hour in Radio Ceylon. She sang a number ”Mockingbird Hill”.
Then she started singing in a small night club in Chennai where she was received so well that the owner of the club asked her to stay on for a week. Then she began singing in Calcutta at different night clubs like “Talk of the Town” and “Trincas”where she met her future husband Uthup from Kottayam, Kerala. Later she sang at Oberoi hotels in Delhi where she was spotted by Navketan unit including Shashi Kapoor and offered her a chance to sing. She started her Bollywood career with Hare Rama Hare Krishna singing an English verse. She got opportunities to work with big names like R.D.Burman, Bappi Lahiri through the 70’s and 80’s. Her famous numbers were “Ek Do Cha Cha Cha”(Shalimar), “Koyi Yahan Aha Nache”( Disco Dancer),”Ramba Ho”(Armaan), “ Hari Om Hari”(Pyaara Dushman), “Doston Se Pyar Kiya” (Shaan) and her most recent being “Darling”(7 Khoon Maaf). She has also lent her voice in 16 Indian languages like Oriya, Gujarati, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu etc. and several foreign languages to her credit such as Dutch, French, German, Italian, Sinhalese, Russian, Creole, Zulu and Spanish to name a few, an accomplishment only she can boast of.
She has recorded two English pop songs, “Jambalaya” and The Kingston Trio’s, “Greenback Dollar”. She was interviewed on “London Sounds Eastern” on BBC Radio London. When she visited Nairobi as a part of an Indian festival, she became so popular that she was asked to stay on and President Jomo Kenyatta made her an honorary citizen of Kenya. She sang the famous song, “Malaika” with Fadhili Williams who was the original singer. Her other contributions are “Vande Mataram” from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Ghum, “Vegham Vegham” from the Tamil Movie, Anjali. She has also sung in movies like “Daud”, “Hum Paanch”, “Purab aur Pacchim” etc. She is also known for her lively stage performances.
She has been awarded the Padma Shri and also has been nominated for Filmfare Best Female Playback singer a few times. She has received the “Rajiv Gandhi Puraskar” for National Integration for quality music, “Mahila Shromani Puraskar” for international peace and “Channel [V] Award” for outstanding achievement.
She has also acted in a Malayalam movie-“Pothen Vava”, cameo appearance in Bombay to Goa with Amitabh Bachchan and also in “Bow Barracks Forever” directed by Anjun Dutt as herself, a minor role in Tamil film, ”Manmadan Ambu” and of course the Vishal Bhardwaj’s latest, “7 Khoon Maaf”. She currently lives in Kolkata with her husband.