If you’re a fan of Bollywood movies, then you’re certainly familiar with the beautiful music they feature.
From soulful ballads to high-energy dance tunes, the songs of Bollywood are often as captivating as the films themselves. Playback singers perform music for these films, and their audiences deeply revere these idols of Indian culture — and rightly so.
In this post, we’re going to explore some of the lives and careers of 15 of the greatest and most famous Bollywood singers to grace Indian cinema screens.
1. Mohammed Rafi
Born in British India (Punjab), Mohammed Rafi remains a powerhouse name in the Bollywood film industry. His uncanny knack to mold his voice to each unique character made him a legend among stars.
Rafi is notably honored as the pioneer of playback singers and performed in every genre. His versatile voice lends itself to romantic and devotional songs.
Rafi recorded more than a thousand films in several languages and recorded an astonishing 7,000 songs during his career.
Some of his most notable songs are “Chura Liya Hai Tumne Jo Dil Ko” and “Chal Kahin Door Nikal Jayen,” both of which were used as soundtracks to Indian movies.
He was not only a singer but also a polyglot. He was proficient in many dialects like Konkani, Odia, and Bengali. He also sang in English, Farsi, Dutch, and many others.
2. Lata Mangeshkar
The “Queen Of Melody” Lata Mangeshkar is one of the most iconic playback singers in history.
She was born in the Indore District of Central India and reigned as the queen in the Indian music industry for nearly seventy years.
She recorded songs in 36 Indian dialects, including English, Russian and Swahili. From 1948 to 1987, she set a Guinness World Record for the most recorded artist.
Her portfolio rich in songs also includes National Film Awards, Best Female Playback Awards, and several achievement awards bestowed on her by the Government of India and France.
She lived a long and fruitful life before she died in February of 2022 at the age of 92.
Born in Deli, British India, Mukesh Chand Mathur — better known as simply Mukesh —is one of India’s most beloved playback singers.
His singing ability came to the attention of an uncle who heard Mathur sing at a wedding. This relative took Mathur to Mumbai for further vocal training, where the first acting and singing opportunity presented itself.
Mathur married the daughter of a prominent millionaire, but because his singing profession at the time was deemed immoral, the couple eloped in 1946.
Awarded many prestigious Indian music awards throughout his short life, Mathur also lent his voice to actors like Raj Kapoor, Sunil Dutt, Manoj Kumar, and many others.
He passed away in 1976, ending his nearly four-decade musical career.
4. Shaan Mukherjee
Shantanu Mukherjee is a famous contemporary playback singer, actor, and television host from Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh.
Under his stage name Shaan, he actively hosts and coaches contestants on The Voice of India and their spinoffs. Shaan took home the win with his contestants on the first two seasons of The Voice.
Shaan also performs in many languages: Hindi, Bengali, Kannada, and Punjabi. His versatile voice lends itself naturally to pop, ghazals, rock, and hip hop as well.
His two sisters, Sagarika and Sagari, are also performers in the music and film industry.
He has won many awards for his performances and has come a long way from singing advertising jingles. He won the Zee Cine Awards Best Playback Singer a record three times, and his album Tanha Dil won Best Solo Album in 2002.
5. Geeta Dutt
Geeta Ghosh Roy Chowdhuri, more known as Geeta Dutt, was a beautiful playback singer from a wealthy Bangladeshi family.
She is considered a classical artist who found success in Hindi films and recorded many contemporary Bengali songs for film and records. She is also part of the iconic Golden Era of Bollywood and is still a favorite with her fans.
Dutt made her film debut at 16 when she sang two lines. This quickly gained her popularity, and she continued to sing in over 1,200 films.
Dutt went on a downward spiral in 1964 after a personal family tragedy, and she died six years later from cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 41 years. In spite of this, Dutt’s melodious voice remains popular with Indian audiences to this day.
6. Kishore Kumar
Abhas Kumar Ganguly used the stage name Kishore Kumar and is a legendary Indian playback singer and actor born in Khandwa, Central India.
As one of India’s most celebrated playback singers, Kumar had a talent for yodeling and adapting his voice to suit several genres. He was known to use the microphone in a unique method that made his voice resonate.
Kumar sang in many Indian dialects, but sadly, some of his rare compositions were lost. This, however, did not hinder his career.
He won 8 Filmfare Awards for Best Male Playback Singer, which is the highest in this category. The Madhya Pradesh government also awarded him the Lata Mangeshkar Award for his achievements and contributions to Hindi films.
7. Alka Yagnik
Born in Kolkata, West Bengal, Alka Yagnik is a megastar in the Hindi Cinema landscape.
She began her musical career at the age of 6, singing for All India Radio. She rose to fame with her song “Ek Do Teen” in 1988, which was one of the soundtracks for the film “Teezab.”
Her career only grew from there. Currently, YouTube ranks her as #1 in a competitive list of global artists in February 2022. The megastar has also recorded songs in 25 languages in more than 300 movies.
Throughout her career since 1983, she has recorded 9,000 songs. Her impressive portfolio is substantial and has collected numerous awards from the National Film Awards, the Bengal Film Journalists Association Awards, and seven Filmfare Awards for Best Female Playback Singer.
8. Asha Bhosle
Born in Goar, Shangli State, Asha Bhosle is an accomplished soprano who is known for her versatile vocals. She is also Lata Mangeshkars’ sister, another Indian singer included in this list.
Bhosle made such a huge mark on the Indian music industry, earning her a Guinness Record for having the most studio recordings. She has sung over a whopping 12,00 songs, in more than 20 Indian dialects, including foreign languages.
Her work also includes a variety of content: from IndiPop albums to solo concerts, film music, ghazals, bhajans, folk, qawwali, and traditional Indian classical music.
Internationally, she has also gained fame and has performed with other big names in the industry, including Michael Stipe, Boy George, and Code Red.
9. Udit Narayan
Playback singer Udit Narayan is known to be an icon in Bollywood for lending his vocals to various Indian movies. He also performs in a variety of dialects, including Tamil, Bengali, Assamese, and Odia.
Narayan debuted in 1980 alongside playback artist Kishore Kumar. Though taunted for his unclear birthplace, Narayan clarified he is from Bihar.
Despite the media’s taunts, he has been nominated 20 times for a Filmfare Award, winning five, and also had the honor of four National Film Awards. He is also the only singer awarded a Filmfare award for over three decades.
The 1988 movie “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak” shone the spotlight on Narayan and helped him gain more popularity. The movie sold by the millions, and the soundtrack became one of the best-selling hits in the 1980s.
10. Sunidhi Chauhan
New Delhi native and playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan entered the performing arena early. She debuted her first film at 13 years and won the first Meri Awaz Suno reality music show.
Chauhan is also recognized in the industry for her versatile vocal range and has received dozens of awards and nominations in many categories. Forbes Celebrity has, in fact, featured her four times.
She also rose to fame internationally. She has performed live and has appeared with India’s most elite music entertainers and western musicians like Coldplay, Beyonce, and Pearl Jam. She has also collaborated with famous male Spanish singer Enrique Iglesias in the hit song “Heartbeat.”
When Chauhan isn’t performing as a playback singer, she judges reality shows, appears in music videos, and contributes to charities and social causes.
11. Shreya Ghoshal
Indian megastar Shreya Ghoshal started her musical career early, training in classical music at only six years old. At 11 years old, she won the prestigious All India Light Vocal Music Competition, gaining her traction in the music industry.
Today, she is one of India’s highest-paid playback singers and television personalities. Her collection of awards is as long as her recording for film and albums in several Indian languages.
Ghoshal won a National Film Award, a Filmfare Award, and won the reality singing show Sa Re Ga Ma at 16 years old.
Internationally she’s been honored by the governor of Ohio, the House of Commons in the UK, and been listed by Forbes magazine five times in the top 100 celebrities of India.
12. Mohit Chauhan
Born in the Sirmaur District in India, Mohit Chauhan is mainly recognized for his part in the Indian band Silk Route.
As a child, his aspiration was not to become a musician but an actor, influenced by his idol Kishore Kumar. Life had different plans for him, however, and despite having no formal music training, Chauhan’s playback music career rose to acclaim.
Soon, he became the vocalist for the Silk Route. He also explored a solo career, producing hits like “Dooba Dooba” on his first album in 1998. In 2002, he ventured into singing for Bollywood films and became an instant star for singing the soundtrack for the Indian movie “Road.”
He has since been honored with two Filmfare Awards and three Zee Cine Awards and remains a relevant IndiPop artist today.
Krishnakumar Kunnath performs under the stage name KK. Despite having no formal music training, he has risen to fame as one of Bollywood’s most beloved singers.
KK sang in over 3,500 advertising jingles before breaking onto the Bollywood stage. His performances include a number of films in various languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Telugu Kannada, and Bengali.
His vocal range and style are quite distinct in the Indian music scene, which is best suited to pop-rock. This was influenced by his strong love for western music, including that of Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, and Led Zeppelin.
Aside from his career as a playback singer, Kunnath performs in concerts, records several albums, and has received nominations and awards for his performances. He has won a Hub award, Filmware award, and Eenam-Swaralaya award as Best Playback Singer and Singer of the Year, respectively.
14. Sonu Nigam
“Lord Of The Chords” and “Master Of Melody” Sonu Nigam began singing as a child at weddings and parties with his father. Born in Faridabad, Nigam moved to Mumbai where he trained under the classical singer Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan.
He made his Bollywood debut at the age of 20, releasing his first song “O Aasman Wale,” which was part of the soundtrack for the Bollywood film “Aaja Meri Jaan.” Since then, his popularity grew.
His portfolio is rife with numerous awards including the National Film Award, Filmfare Awards, and the Government of India distinction for his contribution to the entertainment field.
Nigam performs mostly in Hindi and Kannada films but also sings in Odia, Bengali, Tamil, and other Indian dialects.
Aside from his two other monikers, he is affectionately called the “Modern Rafi,” after Mohammad Rafi who is also Nigam’s musical hero.
15. Neha Kakkar Singh
Singing sensation Neha Kakkar Singh is the younger sister of Sonu Kakkar, another popular playback singer.
In her early years, she discovered her aptitude for singing while performing for religious ceremonies as a child. Not soon after, she followed in her sister’s footsteps and started performing more publicly.
She was a contestant on Indian Idol in 2005 but was cut early. This did not dishearten her, however, and eventually, she later debuted in Bollywood as a chorus singer.
In 2019, YouTube listed her as the most viewed female artist and she continues to gain traction until today. She has a massive following on social media where she regularly interacts with her fans.
Currently, she is a judge on TV reality shows, including Indian Idol. She also appears in several music videos and Bollywood films.
Rounding Up Our List of Bollywood’s Popular Singers
Researching the stars behind Bollywood’s voices feels like a cultural exchange because there’s so much to learn from this vibrant country. What becomes quickly apparent is that India’s Bollywood icons are prolific not just in singing but in performing in general.