M.L. Vasanthakumari (1928-1990) redefined the way Carnatic music was presented. MS, DKP and MLV — they formed a triumvirate. But MLV’s penchant for innovation made her a class apart. A disciple of legend G.N. Balasubramaniam, she followed his quicksilver style of rendition but brought to it her own charm and individuality creating a whole new bani. Madras Lalithangi Vasanthakumari was a prodigy, giving a public performance when she was all of 13. Trained by mother Lalithangi, an accomplished vocalist, Vasanthi accompanied her mother in concerts from the age of 11. Her father Koothanur Ayyasamy Iyer was a musician too. MLV stepped in to present a concert in Bangalore when her mother had to withdraw on health grounds.
There was no looking back, as MLV grew in stature, her vidwat gaining a kind of depth that left the lay and the connoisseur mesmerised. Her RTPs, in particular, were something special. Her adventurous spirit made her launch into delineations of rare ragas, her imagination soaring high, leaving the accompanists searching for answers. Audience flocked to listen to her Devarnamas and Dasar kritis. She was heard in every home during Margazhi through Tiruppavai, which she sang, set to tune by Ariyakkudi Ramanuja Iyengar. Stalwarts, including Ustads, bowed to her genius. All who knew her underline the impromptu way in which she steered her concerts.
Sought after across the country and abroad, MLV stood out with her brilliance, which spilled over to films, where she ruled the roost for several decades. MLV’s personal life, however, was not as tuneful but she moved on not letting any of it reflect in her public performances, the trademark smile never leaving her face. Warm and generous, she showered friends with gifts. She was married to ‘Vikatam’ Krishnamurti and the couple had two children — Shankar and Srividya. The latter, trained in music and dance, was a renowned film actor.
Sabhas feted MLV, who at 49 was the youngest woman to be conferred Sangita Kalanidhi by The Music Academy, Madras. The Central Sangeet Natak Akademi honoured her, Mysore University conferred a doctorate on her and as icing on the cake came Padma Bhushan. MLV passed away on October 31, 1990, her legacy safe in the hands of scores of disciples, some of whom have reached great heights, such as Sudha Ragunathan, Charumathi Ramachandran and A. Kanyakumari.