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Playback singer

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Indian playback singer Lata Mangeshkar recorded thousands of songs
Pakistani playback singer Ahmed Rushdi performing live on stage in 1954

A playback singer (as they are usually known in South Asian cinema) or ghost singer (in Western cinema) is a singer whose performance is pre-recorded for use in films. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and the performers lip-sync the songs for cameras; the actual singer does not appear on the screen.

South Asia

South Asian films produced in the Indian subcontinent frequently use this technique. A majority of Indian films as well as Pakistani films typically include six or seven songs. After Alam Ara (1931), the first Indian talkie film, for many years singers made dual recordings for a film, one during the shoot, and later in the recording studio, until 1952 or 1953. Popular playback singers in India enjoy the same status as popular actors and music directors[1][2][3] and receive wide public admiration. Most of the playback singers are initially trained in classical music, but they later often expand their range.[4]

Mohammed Rafi and Ahmed Rushdi[5] are regarded as two of the most influential playback singers in South Asia.[6] The sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who have mainly worked in Hindi films, are two of the best-known and most prolific playback singers in India.[7][8] In 2011, Guinness officially acknowledged Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history.[9]


The practice is also employed in Hollywood musicals, where such performers are known as ghost singers, though less frequently in other genres. Notable Hollywood performances include Anita Ellis as the voice of Rita Hayworth's title character in Gilda (1946). Both Anita Ellis's and Rita Hayworth's performances were so impressive that audiences did not know that Rita's voice had been dubbed. Called "the sexiest voice of 1946", Ellis's identity was not publicized. Rita Hayworth was instead credited on the soundtrack.

There have been other uses of ghost singing throughout Hollywood, including Marni Nixon in West Side Story for Natalie Wood's portrayal of Maria, in The King and I for Deborah Kerr's Anna Leonowens, and for Audrey Hepburn's Eliza in My Fair Lady; Bill Lee singing for John Kerr's Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific and for Christopher Plummer's Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music,[10] Lindsay Ridgeway for Ashley Peldon's character as Darla Dimple in the animated film Cats Don't Dance, Claudia Brücken providing the singing voice for Erika Heynatz's character as Elsa Lichtmann in L.A. Noire, and Betty Noyes singing for Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain,[11] a film in which ghost singing is a major plot point.


Known playback or ghost singers include:

See also


  1. ^ Wolk, Douglas (April 1999). "Kill Your Radio: Music on The 'Net". CMJ New Music (Electro Media): 61.
  2. ^ D. Booth, Gregory (2008). Behind the curtain: making music in Mumbai's film studios. OUP USA. pp. 275–276. ISBN 978-0-19-532764-9.
  3. ^ Srinivasan, Meera (27 February 2009). "Fans spend a sleepless night". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 1 March 2009. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  4. ^ Rajamani, Radhika (17 February 2003). "Realising a dream". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 1 July 2003. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  5. ^ "Rushdi remembered as magician of voice". The Nation. 12 April 2011. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017. Retrieved 8 March 2019.
  6. ^ *Harris, Craig. "Mohammed Rafi". AllMusic. Archived from the original on 29 August 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  7. ^ Gangadhar, v. (18 May 2001). "Only the best preferred". The Hindu. Archived from the original on 23 August 2003. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  8. ^ *Gulzar; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterji, Saibal (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema. Popular Prakashan. pp. 72–73. ISBN 81-7991-066-0.
  9. ^ Banerjee, Soumyadipta (22 October 2011). "It's a world record for Asha Bhosle". DNA India. Archived from the original on 14 March 2013. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  10. ^ "The Sound of Music full credits". IMDb. Archived from the original on 7 March 2013. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  11. ^ Earl J. Hess and Pratibha A. Dabholkar, Singin' in the Rain: The Making of an American Masterpiece (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2009), p145.
  12. ^ Thomson, David (2008) Have You Seen...?': a Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films including masterpieces, oddities and guilty pleasures (with just a few disasters). Penguin UK At Google Books. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  13. ^ Quirk, Lawrence J. and William Schoell (2013) Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, p. 170. University Press of Kentucky At Google Books. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  14. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0794301/bio#trivia Archived 28 May 2022 at the Wayback Machine [user-generated source]
  15. ^ "Obituary: Joan Greer "Jo Ann" McMahan" Archived 15 January 2021 at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  16. ^ a b c "Ghost singer India Adams appears" Archived 16 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  17. ^ Server, Lee (2007) Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing", p. 218. Macmillan, Apr 1, 2007 – At Google Books. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  18. ^ https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0912723 Archived 11 October 2022 at the Wayback Machine [user-generated source]
  19. ^ Bushard, Anthony (August 2014). "The Music of James Bond. By Jon Burlingame. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012". Journal of the Society for American Music. 8 (3): 412–415. doi:10.1017/s1752196314000261. ISSN 1752-1963. S2CID 194101235.

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