Ghantasala statue at Tummalapalli Kshetrayya Kalakshetram
|Birth name||Ghantasala Venkateshwara Rao|
4 December 1922|
Choutapalli, Gudivada, Krishna district, Madras Presidency, India
|Died||11 February 1974
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
|Genres||Film music (playback singing), Indian classical music|
Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao (4 December 1922 – 11 February 1974) was an Indian film, composer, playback singer known for his works predominantly in Telugu cinema, and a few Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Tulu and Hindi language films. In 1970, he received the Padma Shri award, India's fourth highest civilian award for his contribution to Indian cinema. According to The Hindu and The Indian Express, Ghantasala was "Such a divine talent and with his songs he could move the hearts of the people." "Ghantasala's blending of classical improvisations to the art of light music combined with his virtuosity and sensitivity puts him a class apart, above all others in the field of playback singing"." "Gifted with what Indian Film Historian V. A. K. Ranga Rao called "the most majestic voice", Ghantasala helped Telugu film music develop its own distinct character which remains unparalleled". He is referred to as the "Gaana Gandharva" for his mesmerising voice and musical skills.
Ghantasala performed in the United States, England and Germany, and for the United Nations Organisation. The government of Andhra Pradesh marked the occasion of 25 years of his film career as Silver Jubilee Celebrations of Ghantasala in Hyderabad on 1 February 1970. More than 30,000 people attended the function held at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad. Ghantasala continues to be popular. Statutes of his likeness have been installed across Andhra Pradesh. Every year, the anniversaries of his birth and death are celebrated in India and overseas.
The Ghantasala Puraskar Award 2014, given every year by Sharan Incorporation, has been conferred on Rao Bala Saraswathi Devi, who was the first Telugu playback singer. The Government music college in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, is named after Ghantasala. Ghantasala Sangeetha Kalasala college in Hyderabad and Vizag offers six-month and one-year diploma courses on Ghantasala's light music, songs and music.
Ghantasala was born in 1922 into a Telugu speaking family of Soorayya Ghantasala, a professional singer in Chowtapalli, a village in Gudivada taluk of Krishna District. During his childhood, Ghantasala used to dance to his father's Tarangams. His father died when Ghantasala was a child, and he was brought up by his maternal uncle. He took formal music training from Patrayani Sitarama Sastry, and joined Maharajah's Government College of Music and Dance in Vijayanagram.
Ghantasala participated in the Quit India Movement of 1942, for which he was arrested and imprisoned for 18 months at the Alipore (Allipura) Jail, Bellary. After leaving jail, he met Samudrala Raghavacharya, who advised him to try his luck in the film industry as a singer. Ghantasala married Savitri, who lived in a village called Pedapulivarru. In that village, Ghantasala met lyricist Samudrala Raghavacharya, who was impressed with his voice and inducted him into the Madras film industry. Before Ghantasala found fame, he was already an accomplished Carnatic music singer.
Ghantasala's first break as a singer came from All India Radio. Later on, Peketi Siva Ram from HMV studios recorded Ghantasala's private songs. Ghantasala debuted as a chorus singer and for a character role in Seeta Rama Jananam by Pratibha Films. After this, he worked with well-known music directors Gali Penchala and C. R. Subbaraman. Ghantasala's first film as a music director was Laxmamma. He introduced the technique of changing the vocal pitch and diction to suit the actor singing the songs. Ghantasala was peerless at Padyam renderings and his way with the Telugu padyam was incomparable.
Producer Krishnaveni gave Ghantasala his first job as full-time music director for her film Mana Desam, which was N. T. Rama Rao's first film. It established Ghantasala as a music composer-cum-playback singer. He was the most prolific film composer and playback singer in Telugu cinema until the mid-1970s. He composed music for many popular Telugu movies, including Patala Bhairavi, Mayabazaar, Lava Kusa, Pandava Vanavasam, Rahasyam,Gundamma Katha, Paramanandayya Shishyula Katha and Pelli Chesi Chudu, and also for popular Tamil and Kannada films in the 1950s and 1960s. Ghantasala sang for and directed the music for a Hindi film Jhandaa ooncha Rahe Hamara (1964). The song "Siva Sankari" from the film Jagadeka Veeruni Katha (1961) was sung by Ghantasala in a single take.   
Private recordings and Bhagavad Gita
Ghantasala served as the Aaasthana Gaayaka (court musician) for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams. He recorded private albums, including Bhagawad Gita, Patriotic Songs, Padyalu—a unique genre of Telugu, singing the verses in dramatic style—Pushpa Vilapam, Devotional and folk songs. His recording of "Bhagawad Gita", which he directed and sang, can now be heard daily in the Tirumala temple. According to music director Pendyala Nageswara Rao and playback singer P Susheela, "Ghantasala alone is the foremost among playback singers who had a full-fledged melodious powerful voice range which could accommodate in uniformity, all the three octaves in music quite comfortably".
Pendyala Nageswara Rao channelled Ghantasala's classical musical knowledge and skills in classical renditions and in Telugu films including siva sankari from film Jagadekaveeruni Katha, Rasika Raja taguvaramu kama from film Jayabheri, and Syamala Dandakam – Manikya Veena from film Mahakavi Kalidasu. Pendyala said these renditions were recorded only in one take by Ghantasala.
Ghantasala died on 11 February 1974, two months after his 51st birthday due to cardiac arrest at a hospital in Chennai. The last song he recorded was for a documentary – Bhadrachala Ramadasu Vaibhavam (music by Master Venu) from the hospital bed the day before his death.
The Indian government released a postage stamp and first day cover to celebrate Ghantasala's work on 11 February 2003. He is the first movie singer-composer of the south to be accorded this honour. The US Postal Department has released a postal stamp on Ghantasala on 6 October 2014. The postal stamp was jointly released by the North American Telugu Society (NATS) in collaboration with Telugu Literary and Cultural Association (TLCA) in New York. Various awards named after Ghantasala are given every year, including the "Ghantasala melody king award". Recipients of this award include playback singers K J Yesudas and P Suseela, and Indian Idol Sri Ramachandra. Ghantasala Arts Academy has instituted the "Ghantasala National Award"; the first winner was playback singer S. P. Balasubrahmanyam.
Ghantasala was honoured with the "Padmashri" by the Government of India. He won the best playback singer award in Andhra Pradesh every year for nearly 30 years, a feat unachieved by any other playback singer.
The late singer remains an inspiration for many aspiring singers even to this day. A lot of books based on the life of Ghantasala have been published over the years. As a tribute, CH Rama Rao has written the script for the telefilm based on the life and time of the great singer, to be directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Karri Balaji. The film will be based on the discography of the legendary singer titled, "Ghantasala Patasala", that comprises 555 songs sung by Ghantasala.
"It is an honour to be directing the film based on Ghantasala. We will begin shooting for the film on December 4, which happens to be the 92nd birth anniversary of the great singer. The film will cover all aspects of the great man's life," said Karri Balaji.
Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao was married to Late Sarala Devi. and Savithri. Ghantasala had eight children, four daughters (Syamala, Suguna, Meera and Shanti) and four sons (Vijaya Kumar, Ravi Kumar, Shankar Kumar and Ratna Kumar).
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Playback singer and music director
Ghantasala recorded songs as playback singer for the movies under popular composers – S Rajeswara Rao, Pendyala Nageswara Rao, M S Viswanathan, K V Mahadevan, Adi Narayana Rao, Master Venu, T V Raju, T Chalapathi Rao, S P Kodandapani, Shankar Jai Kishan, Susarla Dakshina Murthy, Galipenchala Narasimha Rao etc.
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