Happy Birthday Wishes to India’s popular pop, jazz and playback singer Usha Uthup, who turned 70 today.
Usha Uthup (born 7 November 1947) is an Indian pop, filmi, jazz, and playback singer who sang songs in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Darling, which she recorded with Rekha Bhardwaj for the film 7 Khoon Maaf, won the Filmfare Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 2012.
Usha Uthup started singing in a small nightclub in Chennai called as Nine Gems in the basement of the erstwhile Safire theatre complex on Mount Road, when she was 20, wearing a saree and leg callipers. Her performance was so well received that the owner of the nightclub asked her to stay on for a week. After her first night club gig, she began singing in Calcutta at night clubs such as “Trincas”. She met her future husband Uthup in Trincas. At about the same time, she also sang at “Talk of the Town”, now known as “Not Just Jazz by the Bay” in Bombay (now Mumbai). After Trincas, her next engagement took her to Delhi where she sang at the Oberoi hotels. By happenstance, a film crew belonging to Navketan unit and Shashi Kapoor visited the nightclub and they offered her a chance to sing movie playback. As a result, she started her Bollywood career with Ivory-Merchant’s Bombay Talkies (1970) in which she sang an English number under Shanker-Jaikishan and then Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Originally, she was supposed to sing Dum Maro Dum along with Asha Bhosle for Hare Rama Hare Krishna. However, as a result of internal politicking on the part of other singers, she lost that chance but ended up singing an English verse.
In 1968, she recorded covers of two pop songs in English, “Jambalaya” and The Kingston Trio’s “Greenback Dollar”, on an EP, Love Story, and “Scotch and Soda”, another Kingston Trio song, which sold very well in the Indian market. She also spent some time in London during this early period. She was a frequent visitor to Vernon Corea’s BBC office at the Langham in London and was interviewed on London Sounds Eastern on BBC Radio London. Usha visited Nairobi as part of an Indian festival. She was so popular that she was invited to stay on. Singing and quite often nationalistic songs in Swahili made her extremely popular and the then President Jomo Kenyatta made her an Honorary Citizen of Kenya. She sang the famous song “Malaika” (angel) with Fadhili Williams who was the original singer. She produced a record “live in Nairobi” with a local band Fellini Five.
Uthup sang several songs in the 1970s and 1980s for music directors R D Burman and Bappi Lahiri. She also reprised some of R.D. Burman songs that were sung by others such as Mehbooba Mehbooba and Dum Maro Dum and popularised them to a distinct end.
Uthup also sang for a two-volume collection of children’s rhymes “Karadi Rhymes”, which are “Indian Rhymes for Indian Kids”, brought out by Karadi Tales (www.karaditales.com). The rhymes reflect the Indian ethos through the Sa-re-ga-ma, mangoes, Indian rivers, the train experiences, Indian festivals, indigenous trees, Cricket, Indian foods like bhelpuri and sambhar, Indian attire like the dhoti, sari, bindi and bangles and even some folk tales. With each rhyme set to an Indian raga, and sung in her characteristic voice with a feisty tempo, Usha creates the atmosphere for children and, surprisingly, even adults to sing along and dance to the toe-tapping beats.
She appeared as a judge on a singing reality show Bharat Ki Shaan: Singing Star — Season 2 (2012), aired on DD National channel, along with Ismail Darbar. She is the judge in the Season 3 of the show as well. She also appeared as a chief guest for Marathi singing reality show . She entertained the audience with Marathi songs.