Dinanath Mangeshkar, her father, owned a theatrical company and was a reputed classical singer, a disciple of the Gwalior school. He gave her singing lessons from around the age of five. She also studied with Aman Ali Khan Sahib and later with Amanat Khan. Her God-given musical gifts meant that she could master the vocal exercises effortlessly on first pass and from early on she was recognised as being highly gifted musically.
However, when her father died in 1942, the onus of being the breadwinner of the family fell on Lata. Between 1942 and 1948 she acted in as many as 8 films in Hindi and Marathi to take care of the family`s economic problems. She also made her debut as a playback singer in the Marathi film Kiti Hasaal (1942) but the song was removed!
The first Hindi film in which she gave playback was Aap ke Sewa Main (1947) but her singing went unnoticed. When Lata entered the Film industry, heavier Punjabi voices like Noorjehan, Shamshad Begum and Zohrabai Ambalewali ruled the industry. Ironically, Lata was even rejected for Shaheed (1948) by producer S. Mukherjee who complained that her voice was too thin! However, Ghulam Haider unable to use her in Shaheed gave Lata her breakthrough song with Dil Mera Toda from Majboor (1948).
1949 saw the release of four films - Barsaat, Andaaz, Dulari and Mahal. The songs of all four films were runaway hits particularly Aaega Aanewaalaa from the last mentioned. By 1950 the Lata wave had changed the industry. Her high-pitched singing rendered obsolete the heavy bass and nasal voices of the day. Only Geeta Dutt and to a certain extent Shamshad Begum survived the Lata onslaught. Asha Bhosle too came up in the late 1950s and the two sisters were the queens of Indian playback singing right through to the 90s.
Lata`s initial style of singing was reminiscent of Noorjehan but she soon got over that to evolve her own distinguished style. With her search for perfection, she corrected her Urdu by hiring a tutor!
From the 80s, Lata cut down on her workload to concentrate on her shows abroad. Lata Mangeshkar sings infrequently now but the songs of some of the biggest hits of today, Dil To Paagal Hai (1997), Maachis (1997), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dil Se (1998) are sung by her. The latest is the title song of Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in 2001. From Nargis to Kajol she`s sung for them all. Lata Mangeshkar is in fact that rare artiste who has realised her search for excellence.
A Phalke Award winner for her contribution to Indian Cinema, the latest jewel in Lata`s crown is having India`s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna conferred on her.