Legendary Bollywood singer Lata Mangeshkar, “the Nightingale of India,” died Sunday at the age of 92. The prolific voice behind Indian film and devotional songs had been battling a Covid-19 infection since early January in the ICU of Breach Candy Hospital in Mumbai, Times of India reports.
While it was reported that Mangeshkar had shown signs of recovery last week and was taken off ventilator support, her condition was critical by February 5th. The artist was responding to “aggressive therapy” for a while, according to hospital authorities at Breach Candy.
“I am anguished beyond words,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. “She leaves a void in our nation that cannot be filled. The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerize people.” India also declared two days of national mourning followed Mangeshkar’s death, the Associated Press reports.
The celebrated artist was born in 1929 in Indore, into a family who staunchly took to music. Mangeshkar was the oldest of singer siblings Meena Khadikar, Asha Bhosle, Usha Mangeshkar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar. The eldest Mangeshkar went on to arguably become the voice of Indian film music’s most popular and evocative songs, including “Ek Pyar Ka Nagma Hai” from the movie Shor in 1972 to riding the Nineties wave with playful songs like “Didi Tera Devar Deewana” from 1994 family movie Hum Aapke Hai Koun! to the A.R. Rahman-helmed song “Jiya Jale” from 1998 movie Dil Se...
In the process, she created fans across generations in India for her versatility, one that has stood the test of time over the last seven decades. While most of her work has been in Hindi films, she has also sung many devotional songs, patriotic songs, ghazals and regional songs, mainly in Marathi, with some popular hits in Bengali. Today’s generation of young singers is inspired by her, singing her songs at tribute shows and talent contests.
In addition to a host of accolades received over the years, Mangeshkar was continually feted with Indian civilian honors over the years. She received the Bharat Ratna in 2001, which was preceded by the Padma Bhushan in 1969, the Padma Vibhushan in 1999.
Following Mangeshkar’s death, composer A.R. Rahman shared a tribute on how ‘Lata Ji’ has had a profound influence on him and his music.
“It’s a very, very sad day for all of us. When people live, we all take it for granted, and somebody like Lata Ji is not just a singer and not just an icon, I think part of her soul’s consciousness is India. India is Hindustani music, Urdu poetry, Hindi poetry, Bengali and so many other languages, and this void is going to remain forever for all of us. In my experience, it goes back to my dad, I believe,” Rahman wrote.
“He passed away when I was very young. He had a picture of her. So he would wake up to her face and get inspired to go to recordings. So it started there. And to me, also, to record a few songs with her, sing along with her, be a part of a show where I learn probably one of the most important things about performing on stage… I have never taken singing seriously, I’ve always thought of myself as a music composer. And then a few of the songs that I’d composed were for her. After the rehearsals at 4 pm she would go and sit with her assistant and start singing the songs very slowly and every lyric clearly. And I’d just pass that side and say is that her practicing for the show? And that one incident changed my life. So then every show I go to, I just go off and put the Tanpura and practice, do the warmup, with every lyric coming out the way it comes out along with the intention behind the song.”
Rahman continued, “One day, I was just speaking to her and she said you know in those days Naushad Saab would make us come for rehearsals for 11 days. I was like how long did you take? She said I’d learn it immediately, but still, he insisted that we go for 11 days of rehearsals because then you understand the depth of each song and you’ve so much of investment, love, spirituality, passion. And I think for the younger generation, it’s important to lean into something and believe in it. Give it all and not expect any returns. This is the kind of thing that I learned from one of the last pillars, in the last century, the legacy of Indian music. The void…when I think about it, it’s like a huge void. Even though we have her songs, not having her is a grief, a void that will be very difficult to fill.”