Early life and career
She is the eldest daughter of Thiagarajan Sadasivam and his first wife, Apithakuchambal (alias Parvathi). However, she was brought up by M. S. Subbulakshmi whom her father married after the passing away of Apithakuchambal from a scorpion sting.
Radha had her early training in music from T.R. Balasubramaniam, Ramnad Krishnan and Mayavaram Krishna Iyer. She began accompanying her mother on stage at age of 5. She combined this with intensive training in dance from Vazhavoor Ramiah Pillai (she was, in fact, his first disciple along with Anandhi Ramachandran, daughter of Kalki Krishnamurthy) and made a reputation for herself as a Bharatanatyam dancer, making her arangetram (debut) in 1945. Radha and Anandhi would perform while M.S. sang Padams. Radha also performed an exclusive dance recital at the Carnatic Music College, Madras, for the violinist Yehudi Menuhin. She danced at Birla House before Mahatma Gandhi for a Meera Bhajan - "Ghanashyam Aayaari" with M.S. singing for her. At the age of 21, Radha gave up dancing to concentrate exclusively on singing. Radha was to soon become a vital force in MS concerts. M.S. and Radha jointly learnt Kritis from Musiri Subramania Iyer, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and K. V. Narayanaswamy and Padams from T. Brinda. They also had intensive training in Hindustani classical music from Siddheshwari Devi of Benares and Dilipkumar Roy.
When she was 6 years old, Radha made her debut in films as Bharata in Shakunthala and as "Baby Meera" in Meera, which was directed by Ellis R. Dungan and produced by her father T.Sadasivam's company Chandraprabha Cinetones. In Meera she danced with Kumari Kamala who acted as Krishna. Meera was made in both Tamil and Hindi with the premiere of the latter version in 1947, being inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself. Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Rajendra Prasad, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and Indira Gandhi attended the premiere as well.
Radha accompanied her mother on her frequent concert tours and recording engagements. M.S. had no disciples other than Radha.Both of them performed all over India and the world including the USA, Europe, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines. In 1966 both of them toured Europe and embarked on a coast to coast tour of the USA, thus becoming some of the first vocalists of Carnatic music to perform in the US and Europe. It was during this tour that they performed a concert at the United Nations on October 24, 1966. They sang a song composed specially for the occasion by the Paramacharya of Kanchi, "Maithreem Bhajatha".
The San Francisco Chronicle greeted their singing as "a series of miracles." The reviewer exclaimed: "Subbulakshmi’s elaborate vocal filigree sometimes sung in unison or octaves with her daughter Radha Viswanathan were unbelievable in their poised ease and constancy of flow...”
M.S. and Radha Viswanathan recorded many songs together. The "Venkateswara Suprabatham" and the "Vishnu Sahasranamam" were practiced for six months in front of Vedic scholars including Agnihotram Thathachariar and Swami Ranganathananda of Sri Ramakrishna Mutt. The Annamacharya recordings were released in 1980. They were a series of five records called the "Balaji Pancharatnamala" that included classical and devotional music. The royalties from these recordings were donated to various charities.
In 1975, when M.S. won the Ramon Magsaysay Award in the Philippines, both of them sang at the Malacañan Palace. In 1977 during their second tour of the USA, they performed at Carnegie Hall. During Maha Shivaratri, they performed in front of the Paramcharya of Kanchi with just a tambura for accompaniment as he performed the pujas.
In 1982, at the Festival of India held in the United Kingdom, M.S & Radha performed at the Royal Albert Hall. This program was attended among others by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, Ravi Shankar, V.K. Narayana Menon (Chairman of Sangeet Natak Akademi) and Zubin Mehta.
In April 1982 Radha fell critically ill with tuberculosis meningitis and slipped into a coma for three months. Although she survived, her recovery was slow. All of her concerts scheduled for the next year were cancelled by her father and no new ones were accepted. Radha finally sang again on March 12, 1983 at M.S.'s benefit concert for the Houston Meenakshi Temple held at the Music Academy, Chennai. For the next 10 years she accompanied her mother for concerts, although the number was reduced, as age was catching up with M.S. and Thiagarajan Sadasivam. However, once again Radha's health deteriorated in 1992 and she had to completely stop accompanying M.S.
On September 16, 2007, Radha performed in concert for the first time in 15 years to celebrate M.S. Subbulakshmi's 91st birthday. Using a wheelchair, she was accompanied by her granddaughter Aishwarya. After this concert at Narada Gana Sabha, the pair sang together in more than 20 concerts, including some in the US. Radha was honoured with the title "Sangeetha Ratna" by Lalithakala Academy in March 2008. In April 2010 she was awarded the citation "Kala Chandrika" by the Cleveland Aradhana Committee for her outstanding services to the cause of Carnatic music. Radha is an excellent Guru who has won accolades from none other than the great Semmangudi himself and she continues to teach music. Amongst her disciples are Anuradha (daughter of the legend K.V.Narayanaswamy ), Sikkil Gurucharan (ref SG'S homepage), Mahesh Vinayakaram (son of the Ghatam Maestro - Vikku Vinayakram), Navaneet Krishnan, P.T Seshadri, Balaji Shankar (disciple of the late D K Jayaraman) and the playback singer Harini.
Radha is the wife of Late Guruswamy Viswanathan and has two sons and one daughter, Lakshmi, who is a special child.The eldest son Chandrasekhar is married to flautist Sikkil Mala, daughter of flautist Sikkil Neela. Their second son, Shrinivasan Viswanathan and his wife Geetha are parents of Aishwarya and Saundarya. Shrinivasan is the Managing Trustee of the "Suswaralakshmi Foundation for Classical Music and Performing Arts"
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