Late Sri Tanguturi Surya Kumari

Occupation:
Singer
Late Sri Tanguturi Surya Kumari
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Surya Kumari (Telugu: టంగుటూరి సూర్యకుమారి) (Tangutoori Suryakumari) (born 13 November 1925 in Rajamundry, India died 25 April 2005) was a singer, actor and dancer.

Born in Rajamundry, in south India, of Brahmin parents, Surya became a freedom fighter, or more accurately a freedom singer, while still a schoolgirl.

Sankarambadi Sundarachari’s Maa Telugu Thalliki song is familiar to everyone. Tanguturi Suyakumari who sang it with great appeal in her mellifluous voice, has many records to her credit. She is the niece of ‘Andhra Kesari’ Tanguturi Prakasham Pantulu. Her song can be heard from the google videos.

Accompanied by her uncle, Tanguturi Prakasam (known as the Lion for his defiance of British troops during the struggle for Indian independence), she sang patriotic songs which became more popular, and proved even more of a draw, than the speeches of politicians.

Child Artist
She was a film star at the age of 12, when a special part was written into the film Vipranarayana (1937) to accommodate her singing talents. Record companies came forward to record her voice, and at a time when gramophones were not yet common, her songs could be heard everywhere. Patrons in restaurants and outdoor cafes would pay extra if their meal was accompanied by Surya’s songs, and passing traffic would stop until a song had finished.

Maa Telugu Talliki…. Her presence was a major attraction at meetings of the Indian National Congress, and her recordings reached rural areas unvisited by politicians. Even today, her most famous song, Maa Telugu Thalli (in praise of her mother tongue), is sung at the start of social functions in her home state of Andhra.

Indian Cinema to HollywoodAltogether, Surya appeared in some 25 Indian films in the 1940s and 1950s, singing and acting in a variety of languages, including Telugu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Gujurati, Hindi and English.

This 1952 ‘Miss Madras’ had her film admirers too, for her films like ‘Raithu Bidda’ (1939), ‘Bhagyalakshmi’ (1943), ‘Krishna Prema’ (1943), ‘Maradalu Pelli’ (1952) and Hindi films ‘Watan’ (1954), ‘Udan Khatola’ (1955).

In the mid-1950s, she made her first visit to America, as a member of a delegation from the Indian film industry invited to Hollywood by the Motion Picture Association of America (though union regulations precluded her from film work there).

Learning western classics and research on Indian stories In 1959, she went to New York to teach at Columbia University, and also to add to her skills by studying western classical and popular dance forms. On her arrival, she appeared on television alongside the Indian ambassador and sang Indian songs. She then appeared as Queen Sudarshana in Rabindranath Tagore’s The King Of The Dark Chamber (1961) and won the Off-Broadway Critics’ Award for Best Actress. She had an acquaintance with the great Alfred Hitchcock. She also took the role of Princess Chitra in the dance production of Tagore’s Chitra for CBS, and researched Indian stories for Alfred Hitchcock.

Journey to London
In 1965, Surya travelled to London, and her life changed again. Scheduled to play the Goddess Kali in Kindly Monkeys, a new play at the Arts Theatre, she decided at the end of the run to stay on and found India Performing Arts, a project to train performers and mount productions. Annual performances by Surya herself, her students and fellow artists followed at the Purcell Room, in the South Bank Centre, for the next 40 years.

She established ‘India Performing Arts’ at Kensington, England, to train the English in Indian performing arts.

Quennching the thirst of aestesism with Harold From 1973, Surya was supported in her work by her husband, Harold Elvin, poet, painter and potter, reading his poetry and telling his stories as she sang and played the tanpura and sitar.

Something of the flavour of these gatherings may be gained from the programmes for two events in 1982, with schoolchildren appearing alongside Ben Kingsley in Homage To Mahatma Gandhi, and Larry Adler’s harmonica improvisations (complemented by Surya’s instrumental accompaniment) in An Indian Pageant. Surya’s political commitments were engrained in all her work, whether as chief singer at the Gandhi centenary commemoration at St Paul’s cathedral in 1969, or with the Hordaland Teater of Bergen, for children in Norway, with whom she worked from 1991 to 1998. He predeceased her. Tanguturi Suryakumari, a singer, actor and dancer, died on April 25, 2005.