Kattassery Joseph Yesudas (born 10 January 1940) is an Indian classical musician and playback singer. Yesudas sings Indian classical, devotional, and popular music. He has recorded more than 50,000 songs in many languages including Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Bengali, Gujarati, Oriya, Marathi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tulu, Malay, Russian, Arabic, Latin and English during a career spanning five decades. He has performed in most Indian languages except Assamese, Konkani and Kashmiri. He also composed a number of Malayalam film songs in the 1970s and 1980s. Yesudas is fondly called Gana Gandharvan (The Celestial Singer).
Yesudas has won the National Award for the Best Male Playback Singer seven times (the most by any Indian singer) and the State Award for the Best Playback Singer 43 times, which consists of awards by the state governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and West Bengal. He was awarded Padma Shri in 1975 and Padma Bhushan in 2002 by the Government of India for his contributions to the arts. In 2011 Yesudas was honoured with the CNN-IBN outstanding achievement award for being India's celestial singer having recorded over 50,000 songs in a five-decade career. In 2006, he sang 16 film songs in four South Indian languages on the same day at AVM Studio, Chennai!
K. J. Yesudas was born at Fort Kochi, in the erstwhile Kingdom of Cochin, into a Roman Catholic Latin Rite family to Augustine Joseph and Alicekutty. His father, who was a well-known Malayalam classical musician and stage actor, was his first guru. Later he joined the R.L.V. Music Academy at Thrippunithura and underwent training. Later he studied at Sree Swati Thirunal music college, Thiruvananthapuram under the late Semmangudy Sreenivasa Iyer. But he could not complete his studies due to financial constraints. For a brief period, he was with Sri Vechur Hari Hara Subramania Iyer, after which he took advanced training from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar.In 2011 he completed his 50 Years as a Play Back Singer.
The first song sung by Yesudas is Jaathi Bhedam Matha Dwesham (music: M B Sreenivasan) on 14 Nov 1961, which he usually sings on all the special occasions in front of the audience. Yesudas began his career in playback singing in the Malayalam movie Kaalpadukal and Tamil movies in the early 1960s. By the 1970s Yesudas entered Bollywood.The first Hindi song he sung was for the movie Jai Jawan Jai Kissan (1971), but the first released movie was Chhoti Si Baat. He has sung Hindi songs for many leading actors in Hindi cinema including Amitabh Bachchan, Amol Palekar and Jeetendra. He has sung many evergreen Hindi film songs for music directors including Ravindra Jain, Bappi Lahiri, Khayyam, Rajkamal and Salil Chowdhury.
For the past 30 years Yesudas has been visiting Kollur Mookambika temple, Udupi, Karnataka on his birthday to sing keerthans of Saraswati devi, the Goddess of knowledge, music and the arts. The music festival started on his 60th birthday. The nine-day music festival begins every January at Kollur Mookambika Temple. On Sunday, 10 January 2010, he celebrated his 70th birthday (Sapthathi) at Kollur Sri Mookambika Temple with 'Sangeetharchana' (classical devotional songs), along with 70 singers before goddess Mookambika. The Sangeetharchana included "Pancharatna Gayana" of Thyagaraja's poems. He also took part in the Vidyarambha function. All India Radio broadcasted the special Sangeetharchana all over Kerala. Harivarasanam, a devotional song musical version composed by G. Devarajan, recited before closing the temple at Sabarimala was sung by Yesudas. Though there have been many different renditions of this song by many different renowned singers, Sabarimala officially uses Yesudas' voice for Harivarasanam every day.
Yesudas has the rare feat of performing the classical concert for 36 times in the 36-year old prestigious Soorya Music festival organised by Soorya Krishnamoorthy. This is one among his concerts which is highly followed by serious musical lovers and often rated as the most popular among his concerts in India. After winning the Kerala State Award for Best Playback singer on numerous occasions, he asked that he be ruled out of contention so as to give his peers and newcomers a chance of winning the award. Despite his request, he was still given this award several times in the following years.