Playback singer

For other uses, see Playback.
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Pakistani playback singer Ahmed Rushdi performing live on stage in 1964
Indian playback singer Mohammed Rafi in a photo shoot in 1966

A playback singer is a singer whose singing is pre-recorded for use in movies. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and actors or actresses lip-sync the songs for cameras; the actual singer does not appear on screen.

South Asia

South Asian movies produced in the Indian subcontinent are particularly known for using this technique. A majority of Indian movies as well as Pakistani movies, 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, such as Rahul Dev Burman (1939–1994),[1][2] Ilaiyaraaja and A. R. Rahman,[3] also receive wide public admiration. Most of the playback singers are initially trained in classical music, but they later often expand their range.[4]

Mohammad Rafi and Ahmed Rushdi, both are regarded as two of the most influential playback singers in South Asia.[5][6][7][8] The sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who have mainly worked in Hindi films, are often referred to as two of the best-known and most prolific playback singers in India.[9][10][11][12][13] In 1991, Mangeshkar was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for having sung more than 30,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed song recordings, more than any other singer in the world.,[14][15] However, her name was removed in 1991 and replaced by another Indian playback singer, Dr K J Yesudas in 1991. All India Record. In 2011, Guinness officially acknowledged Lata Mangeshkar's sister Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history, surpassing her sister.[16]

Popular Indian singers include Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Bhupen Hazarika, KJ Yesudas, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam ,[9] Mukesh, (Talat Mahmood), Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Suraiya, Mubarak Begum Sandhya Mukherjee, Sabina Yasmin, Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt, Anuradha Paudwal, Arijit Singh, S.P. Balasubramaniam, K. S. Chitra, S. Janaki, Vani Jayaram, Papon, P. Leela, Swarnalatha,[17] Shreya Ghoshal, Sadhana Sargam, Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Mano, Sujatha Mohan, Anuradha Sriram, Harini, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam, K.K., Shaan, Himesh Reshammiya, Mika Singh, Rajesh Krishnan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shweta Subram, Swetha Mohan, Zubeen Garg.[18][19]

Famous Pakistani playback singers include Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Nazia Hassan, Alamgir,[20] Masood Rana, Adnan Sami Khan, Noor Jehan, Mala, Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Zafar, Ghulam Ali, Runa Laila, Hadiqa Kiani, Alycia Dias, Saleem Raza, Akhlaq Ahmed, Mujeeb Aalam, Asad Amanat Ali Khan, Bashir Ahmad, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Abrar-ul-Haq, Abida Parveen, Adnan Sami Khan, Ali Azmat, Brian O'Connell, Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, Fariha Pervez, Ghulam Haider, Humera Arshad, Jawad Ahmad, Sajjad Ali, Salma Agha, Muhammad Juman, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Waqar Ali, Zohaib Hassan and A Nayyar.[21]


Playback singing is not as common in contemporary Hollywood as musicals are less frequent. It was, however, more widely used in the past. Notable Hollywood performances include Marni Nixon in West Side Story for Natalie Wood's portrayal of Maria, Deborah Kerr's Anna Leonowens in The King and I and 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,[22] 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,[23] a movie in which playback singing is a major plot point.

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 0-19-532764-0.
  3. Srinivasan, Meera (27 February 2009). "Fans spend a sleepless night". The Hindu. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  4. Rajamani, Radhika (17 February 2003). "Realising a dream". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  5. Template:Cite webcast
  6. "Articles about Mohammad Rafi – Times of India". Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  7. "Ahmed Rushdi, Remembering a legend". Dawn News. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  8. "The Express Tribune, Remembering Ahmed Rushdi". Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2012.
  9. 1 2 Gangadhar, v. (18 May 2001). "Only the best preferred". The Hindu. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  10. Gulzar; Nihalani, Govind; Chatterji, Saibal (2003). Encyclopaedia of Hindi Cinema. Popular Prakashan. pp. 72–73. ISBN 81-7991-066-0.
  11. Arnold, Alison (2000). The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Taylor & Francis. pp. 420–421. ISBN 0-8240-4946-2.
  12. Yasmeen, Afshan (21 September 2004). "Music show to celebrate birthday of melody queen". The Hindu. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
  13. Pride, Dominic (August 1996). "The Latest Music News From Around The Planet". Billboard: 51.
  14. Puri, Amit (24 February 2003). "Dedicated to Queen of Melody". The Tribune, Chandigarh. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  15. "Melody Queen Lata rings in 75th birthday quietly". The Tribune, Chandigarh. 29 September 2004. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  16. Banerjee, Soumyadipta (22 October 2011). "It's a world record for Asha Bhosle". DNA India. Retrieved 23 October 2011.
  17. BBC World Service 70th Anniversary Global Music Poll: The World's Top Ten. 2002. Retrieved 5 February 2011.
  18. Kumar, Divya (5 February 2009). "Shreya rocks". The Hindu. Retrieved 14 October 2009.
  19. Locapally, Vijay (5 January 2008). "Singing star". The Hindu. Retrieved 19 August 2009.
  20. "Nisar Bazmi passes away" Check |url= value (help). Top11.htm. 23 March 2007. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  21. Alavi, Omair (1 October 2006). "The rise and fall of playback singing". Dawn. Retrieved 22 July 2009.
  22. "The Sound of Music full credits". Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  23. 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.
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