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Mohammed Rafi

Biography

By some estimates, Mohammed Rafi has sung upwards of 26,000 songs, surpassed only by the great Lata Mangeshkar, with whom he shared the world record for many years. Born on December 24, 1924, in what is now Pakistani Punjab, legend has it that the young Rafi was entranced by a local fakir, or holy man, and learned to sing at his knee against his father's wishes. It is known that by the age of seven, Rafi was learning Hindustani classical music with Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan and Vahida Khan. When he was 17, he sang his first playback song in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch and moved to Bombay not long after to try his hand in Hindi films. Rafi was illiterate and had to memorize the lyrics to a song before he could record it. It is said, however, that he remembered a melody after hearing it only once and could immediately suggest improvements. While Rafi's early years were scrappy as he vied for attention with singers and actors like Hemant Kumar, Mukesh, Talat Mahmoud, and Manna Dey, he quickly rose to the top of the heap, rivaled only by Kishore Kumar. Movies such as Baiju Bawra and Dulari were watershed events for Rafi, and they initiated the long and fruitful partnerships he enjoyed with composers like Naushad. Unlike Kishore Kumar, Rafi rarely appeared in films himself. He was the voice for all of the cinema greats, including Shammi Kapoor and Sunil Dutt, and he is revered to this day as a singer of uncommon depth and ability. Rafi died in 1980 of a heart attack.
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