S. Janaki

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S. Janaki
S Janaki in Pune, India 2007.JPG
Janaki in 2007
Sistla Janaki

(1938-04-23) 23 April 1938 (age 82)
Pallapatla, Guntur, Andhra Pradesh
Other namesNightingale of South Indian Cinema, Gaana Kogile
Occupation Playback Singer, Vocalist
V. Ramprasad
(m. 1959;died 1997)
ChildrenMurali Krishna (b.1960)
Relatives Garimella Balakrishna Prasad (Nephew)
Uma Muralikrishna (daughter-in-law)
Website sjanaki.net

Sistla Janaki (born 23 April 1938), popularly known as S. Janaki, is an Indian playback singer and occasional music-composer from Andhra Pradesh. She is referred to respectfully as "Janakiamma" and is one of the best-known playback singers in India. She is referred to as 'Gaana Kogile' (Singing Cuckoo) in Karnataka. She has recorded nearly 48,000 songs [1] in films, albums, TV and Radio including solos, duets and chorus songs in more than 17 languages including those native to India mainly in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Odia, Bengali, Tulu, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Konkani and also in languages such as English, Japanese, Arabic, German, and Sinhala, however the highest number of songs in her career were in Kannada. [2] [3] Starting in 1957 with the Tamil film Vidhiyin Vilayattu, her career has spanned over six decades. [4]


Janaki, who is fondly called "The Nightingale of South India", [5] has won four National Film Awards and 33 different State Film Awards. [6] She is the recipient of an honorary doctorate [7] from the University of Mysore, the Kalaimamani award from Government of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka Rajyotsava award from Government of Karnataka [8] In 2013, she refused to accept Padma Bhushan, and pointed that it is too little and had come "too late" and that South Indian artists were not given their due recognition. [9]

Widely acclaimed as one of the most versatile singers, her association with singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam and composer Ilaiyaraaja is most talked about. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s her duets with P. B. Srinivas, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, K. J. Yesudas and Dr. Rajkumar topped the charts across all the South Indian languages. [10] She has sung in almost all the genres of songs. In October 2016, Janaki announced her retirement from singing for films and stage appearances. However, under pressure from the film fraternity, she made a comeback for the Tamil film Pannadi in 2018. [11]

Early life & family

Janaki was born on 23 April in Pallapatla, Repalle Taluka, in Guntur, Madras Presidency, British India (now in Andhra Pradesh). [12] Her father, Sreeramamurthy Sistla was an Ayurvedic doctor and teacher. She spent most of her childhood in Sircilla where she got her first on stage performance opportunity at the age of nine. She learnt the basics of music through a Nadaswaram vidwan Paidiswamy. However she never pursued any formal training in the classical music. [13]

Janaki married V. Ramprasad in 1959. He encouraged her career and accompanied her during most of her recordings. He died in 1997 due to cardiac arrest. [14] Their only son Murali Krishna resides in Hyderabad and his wife Uma Muralikrishna is a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer from Chennai. They have two daughters, Varsha and Apsara. Currently she resides at Mysuru.

Janaki can fluently converse in 5 Indian languages - Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi. [15] [16] [17] [18] [19]


While in her twenties, Janaki moved to Chennai on the advice of her uncle, to work with Music composer R. Sudarsanam in AVM Studios as a singer. She started her career as a playback singer in the Tamil movie Vidhiyin Vilayattu in 1957. Subsequently, she performed in the Telugu film M.L.A. . She sang film songs in 6 languages in her very first year. She picked a Malayalam lullaby "Amma Poovinum" [20] from 10 Kalpanakal as her swansong of her 60-year singing career and retired on 28 October 2017 with a concert held at Mysuru . [21]

Kannada films

S Janaki's highest number of songs are in Kannada. [22] Her solos and duets, with P B Srinivas, S P Balasubramanyam and Dr. Rajkumar are considered evergreen.

Janaki sang her first Kannada song in 1957. By the early 60s, she had started working with many prominent music composers. Through out 70s and 80s she remained the number one female playback singer in Kannada films. Most of the music directors, from G K Venkatesh, Rajan-Nagendra to Hamsalekha gave her most of their top compositions.

She has a record number of duets with P B Srinivas, S P Balasubrahmanyam and Dr Rajkumar. She was awarded the Karnataka Rajyotsava awarded in 2014. She was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Mysore for her contributions to Kannada film and music.

Some of her top hit solos in Kannada cinema are:

Malayalam films

S Janaki and Malayalam songs are inseparable, she sang her first Malayalam song back in 1957. She practiced the correct accent and the nuances of the language which later made her one of the most sought after singers in the industry. She was the favorite of many popular music composers like V Dakshinamoorthi, MS Baburaj, Shyam, MK Arjunan, Johnson Master, Raveendran Master, MB Sreenivasan, A.T.Ummer, and Salil Choudhary.

S Janaki went on to sing thousands of songs from early 1960s to mid 80s. She received her first Kerala state film award for best singer in 1970 and went on to win the same almost every year for the next 15 years. It was her command over the language and perfect diction that took her to great heights in Malayalam films. S Janaki is perhaps the only non-Malayali artist who has won maximum awards in Malayalam films.

Some of her hit solo tracks in Malayalam films are:

Tamil films

S Janaki sang her first Tamil song in 1957. The song Singaravelane Deva from the movie Konjum Salangai brought her to limelight in Tamil films. M S Viswanathan gave her many hit songs every year throughout 60s and early 70s. It was the song Unnidathil ennaik kodutthen Avalukendru Oru Manam (1971) that consolidated her position as the most promising singer thereafter.

She sang many songs under many famous composers. Ilaiyaraaja - SP Balasubramanyam- S Janaki combination gave hit after hit from mid 1970s till 1990s. S Janaki is the only singer who has won state awards under the oft-called top three music composers of the state (MS Vishwanathan, Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rahman).

Some of her best solos in Tamil cinema are:

Telugu films

S Janaki started her career in Telugu films in 1957. Movies like Bava maradalu, Pooja Phalam and Bangaru Panjaram had songs by S Janaki which were immensely popular. She gave continuous hits throughout 1960s and 70s. She continued to give hits till mid 90s. S Janaki has won 12 Nandi awards, 10 for films and 2 for television serial songs.A few of her solos are:

Hindi films

Composer Bappi Lahiri was impressed by a Hindi song sung by S Janaki for a Tamil movie, when he visited Prasad Studio. He decided to have songs sung by her in his upcoming Hindi movies and introduced her to Bollywood. [15] She sang many duets with Kishore Kumar.

Some of her notable Hindi songs are

Odia films

S Janaki sang many evergreen songs in Odia. She has sung about 68 songs in Odia films. Her songs are still popular today and she also won 1 Orissa State Film Award.

Other languages

S Janaki sang songs in 17 languages, though her top hits were in Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu. She also sang a few songs in other languages. 109 Hindi songs, 68 Odia songs, 4 Sinhalese songs, 2 Tulu songs, 1 Badaga song, 2 Sanskrit songs, 1 Punjabi song...

Collaboration with Music Directors

S Janaki has worked with music directors of different generations. From the early 1960s she was given songs by composers mainly in Kannada and Malayalam films.Though she sang fewer songs in Telugu and Tamil during the beginning of her career she went on to rule the playback industry across all four south Indian languages from mid 1970s.

G. K. Venkatesh

G. K. Venkatesh was one of the early composers who brought a renaissance in Kannada film music. He started composing for more films from early 1960s and went on to give some remarkable songs to Janaki. GKV-SJ-PBS combination was the talk of the town those days. Two songs which need special mention from this combination are "nambide ninna naadhadevate" from Sandhya Raga and "Karedaru kelade" from Sanaadi Appanna: both became very popular. Dr. Rajkumar, who had begun his acting career in 1950s, got to sing his first duet with S. Janaki - "Tumbitu Manavaa" - for the film "Mahishasura Mardini" in which he played the villain.

M. Ranga Rao

M. Ranga Rao was one of the composers who contributed memorable songs to Kannada film music. He collaborated with S. Janaki for many films, including Edakallu Guddada Mele ("Sanyasi Sanyasi") directed by Puttanna Kanagal. Ranga Rao composed memorable duets sung by Dr. Rajkumar and S. Janaki for "Vasanta Geeta", "Hosabelaku" and "Samayada Gombe".

For Hosabelaku, Ranga Rao composed a melodious tune for a poem by Rashtrakavi Kuvempu "Teredide Mane O Baa Atithi" and S. Janaki sung this along with another legendary singer Vani Jayaram.


Ilaiyaraaja knew about Janaki's vocal range and versatility when he worked with G K Venkatesh. When he got a chance to compose music for his debut film Annakkili (1976) he made Janaki sing 3 songs which became immensely popular thus beginning an era in Tamil cinema. This combination churned out hits after hits pushing S Janaki to the numero uno position for at least the next 2 decades. S Janaki won 4 state awards in Tamil in his compositions. He explored her voice in wide variety of songs and she became the first choice for songs with village background.

She sang maximum duets with Balasubramanium, Malaysia Vasudevan, Mano, Yesudas, Jayachandran. Ilayaraaja himself sang around 200 duets with Janaki; most were chart busters. After IR started giving more songs to SJ, even other music composers followed by making her sing their top hits.

SPB-IR-SJ created some of the finest duets of Tamil cinemas. 1980s saw the meteoric rise of Janaki with a strong back up from Ilayaraja, as she sang his songs in all four South Indian languages.

M. S. Baburaj

The earliest recognised collaboration of S Janaki's was with the Malayalam composer MS Baburaj, who specialised in Hindustani music. Under his direction, Janaki was able to give voice to some of Kerala's best loved film songs of all time during the 1960s and early 1970s. The songs they've worked on have been known for their outward expressions, both in voice and the composition by itself. Some of Janaki's best known solos come from this collaboration, including Vasantha Panchami Naalil (Bhargavi Nilayam), Anjana Kannezhuthi (Thacholi Othenan), and Thaane Thirinjum Marinjum (Ambalapravu).


Rajan and Nagendra have a unique place in hearts of Kannada music lovers. S Janaki was a part of almost all their albums. During the initial days, RN gave many duets to PBS-SJ. Later their main singers were SPB and S Janaki. Almost all of their songs remain etched as the unforgettable melodies of Kannada Cinema. The romantic duets that came out from the SPB-S Janaki-Rajan-Nagendra combination are considered to be heavenly and evergreen. Radios called the pair of SPB and S Janaki as "Love Birds" and are termed to be the "Best singing pair" in Kannada cinema, owing mainly to their romantic duets composed by Rajan-Nagendra in the 1970s and 80s [24] In terms of numbers it was Rajan-Nagendra who gave maximum songs to Janaki after Ilaiyaraaja. The solos and duets that S Janaki rendered under these music composers can never be erased from the minds of Kannada audience. Some top hit songs came from movies such as Eradu Kanasu, Hombisilu, Gaali Maathu, Pavana Ganga, Avala Hejje, Chandana Gombe, Naa Ninna Bidalare and the list continues.


By the end of 80s Hamsalekha established himself as the top music composer in Kannada cinema pushing all the veteran composers to the background. His strong association with actor Ravichandran resulted in so many hit songs. S Janaki was his first choice during the initial days of his career. SPB-SJ-HL created some of the evergreen duets in movies like Premaloka and Ranadheera. S Janaki worked in more than 40 films with Hamsalekha and sang all-time hit solos and duets.

Vijaya Bhaskar

Kannada cinema offered SJ real gems of her singing career and Vijaya Bhaskar is no exception. Though his main singers were P Susheela in 60s and Vani Jayaram and Chitra in 70s and 80s, he gave some of his best compositions to S Janaki in movies like Gejje Pooje, Bellimoda, Upasane, Seetha (1970 film); he chose her whenever the song needed some special singing. "Gaganavu ello bhoomiyu ello" remains one of the most memorable songs of S Janaki. If we take the top 10 songs of S Janaki in Kannada cinema there would definitely be at least 2 songs composed by Bhaskar.

A. R. Rahman

During 90's Janaki sang many great Tamil songs for A. R. Rahman at the early stage of his career. Songs like "Ottagatha Kattiko", "Gopala Gopala", "Nenjinele", "Kadhal Kaditham Theetave", "Mudhalvane", "Kathirika", "Endhan Nenjil", "Margazhi Thinkal" and many are still popular. She won the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Female Playback for Margazhi Thinkal allava from the film Sangamam under his composition.

Legacy & popularity

Janaki and voice modulation is synonymous. She has done a wide range of voice modulation according to the age of the character in all four South Indian languages. She is perhaps the only singer who won state awards for the same. Tamil Nadu state award for "Poda poda pokka" song from Uthiripookkal (1978) and Andhra Pradesh State award for "Govullu tellana" song from Saptapadi (1981 film). Songs she sang in kids-voice in 70s in Kannada too were popular, one such song is "Thayiya thandeya" from the film Madhura Sangama(1978). She sang many such songs for 3 year old, young boy, goatish voice, male voice and voice of aged woman. She sung more than 50000+ songs across all languages.

Toughest song

Janaki says that the toughest song of her singing career is the fastest swaras Kannada song "Shiva shiva ennada naaligeyeke" from the movie Hemavathi (film) . The song, which is in two different ragas, Thodi and Aabhogi, was composed by L. Vaidyanathan. [25] [26]

Awards & honours

National Film Awards
Kerala State Film Awards
Andhra Pradesh State Film Awards
Tamil Nadu State Film Awards
Karnataka Rajyotsava award
Orissa State Film Award
National Film Awards

Best Female Playback Singer

Mirchi Music Awards
Filmfare Awards South
Kerala State Film Awards

Best Female Playback Singer

Andhra Pradesh State Nandi Awards

Best Female Playback Singer

Tamil Nadu State Film Awards

Best Female Playback Singer

Orissa State Film Awards
Filmfare Awards
Special Honours
Other Awards

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