M S Subbulakshmi, an acclaimed vocalist from South India who died in 2004, will be honoured at the United Nations next week in New York, on India’s 70th Independence Day and to commemorate the singer’s birth centenary. Oscar winning composer A R Rahman will perform in honour of the Carnatic vocalist who was the first musician ever to be awarded India’s highest civilian Honour, Bharat Ratna, and was the first Indian to perform at the UN.
On August 15, 2016, a photo exhibition at the UN headquarters in New York by India’s Permanent Mission will commemorate the singer’s birth centenary.
India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Syed Akbaruddin tweeted about the event and wrote “@UN all set to reverberate to music by maestro @arrahman #independence day @Akbaruddinindia @IndiaUNNewyork.” He mentioned M S in another tweet and wrote “Remembering a legend. Photo exhibition @UN in memory of MS Subbulakshmi August 15-19.”
Rahman, who will perform at the cultural extravaganza to celebrate India’s 70th Independence Day, will only be the second one to take the stage here after Subbulakshmi. He will be performing at the iconic General Assembly hall, from where the world leaders address the globe. This concert, organised by the Indian mission is coinciding with the completion of 50 years to Subbulakshmi’s performance here. The Carnatic vocalist, who was subsequently trained in Hindustani classical music performed at the world body’s headquarters in 1966. Carnatic music is one of two main branches of Indian classical music, with Hindustani music, both rooted in ancient Hindu traditions.
Other famous personalities at the event
Actor Abhishek Bachchan and Yoga guru Baba Ramdev will headline a parade in Manhattan organised on August 21 by the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. This is just one of the several parades that are going t o be held across the tri-state area.
The Indian minister of State for External Affairs, M J Akbar, is expected to headline the Independence Day celebrations being organised at the Indian Consulate. The Consulate will also host a flag-hoisting ceremony on the morning of August 15 and India’s Counsel General Riva Ganguly Das will ring the closing bell at the NASDAQ stock market in Times Square later that day. The NASDAQ has been commemorating India’s Independence Day for several years now by inviting the country’s ambassadors in the city to ring the closing bell.
Subbulakshmi was born in a family of musicians in 1916, under British India, in Madurai, now in the Southern Indian State of Tamil Nadu; some of her early lessons in Carnatic music were under the tutelage of her mother, Shanmugavadivu, who was a music exponent and a stage performer. Her grandmother, Akkammal, was a violinist.
Subbulakshmi who gave her first performance at the age of eleven later travelled to London, New York, Canada and the Far East as India’s cultural ambassador.
A Tamil cinema star
She had a proliferating career in the arts. Besides being a world renowned vocalist and a propagator of Carnatic music, Subbulakshmi acted in Tamil films too.
The singer, who first took the South Indian music form to the west, was a philanthropist too. In fact, Subbulakshmi was the first Asian musician to receive the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award from the Philippines, for charity work; she would donate a major chunk of her earnings from her concerts.
An idol for many, she was also a fighter to stereotypes. She once dressed in a stripped pyjama suit and tucked an unlit cigarette in her mouth for a studio photo-shoot. This stint by her raised several eyebrows as it was socially hitting too many who deemed westernisation in a negative light.
M S Subbulakshmi was a hugely celebrated Indian artist. India’s first Prime Minister, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru had this to say about her, “Who am I, a mere Prime Minister, before a Queen, a Queen of music.”