K. J. Yesudas was born in Fort Kochi, Kingdom of Cochin, into a Catholic family, to Augustine Joseph and Alicekutty. His father, who was a well-known Malayalam classical musician and stage actor, was his first guru. Later he joined the R.L.V. Music Academy in Thrippunithura and underwent training. Later he studied in Sree Swati Thirunal music college, Thiruvananthapuram under the training of Late Semmangudy Sreenivasa Iyer. But he could not complete his studies due to financial constrains. For a brief period, he was with Sri Vechur Hari Hara Subramania Iyer, after which he took advanced training from Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar. In 2011 he completed his 50 Years as a Play Back Singer. Completed the Ganabooshanam course at R.L.V. Music Academy, Thripunithura, Cochin. Graduated from the Sree Swathithirunal Music Academy, Trivandrum.
The first song by Yesudas is Jaathi Bhedam Matha Dwesham (music: M B Sreenivasan) on 14th Nov 1961, which he usually sings in all the special occasions in front of the audience. Yesudas began his career in playback singing in the Malayalam movie Kaalpadukal and Kollywood movies in the early 1960s. He got first brake in his music career from the hit malayalam film named Bharya music by G. Devarajan and Lyrics by Vayalar Ramavarma. He sang in Tamil for Bommai first, but the first released movie was Konjum Kumari (music: Veda). The trio combination of Salil-Yesudas and Prem Nazir (the evergreen hero of Malayalam Cinema) took the Malayalam Cinema Industry of the 70′s by storm. As a matter of fact, it was generally agreed that Yesudas’s voice was the most ideal one for Prem Nazir. In 1970, he was nominated to head the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy and was the youngest person ever to occupy the post.
By the 1970s Yesudas entered Bollywood.His first Hindi song was for the movie Jai Jawan Jai Kissan (1971), but the first released movie was Chhoti Si Baat. Yesudas’s most popular Hindi songs are from the 1976 movie Chitchor, with music given by Ravindra Jain. The greatest tribute paid to him is cited during an interview with Ravindra Jain, wherein the blind music director confessed that if he ever happened to regain vision, the first person he would like to see was Yesudas.
Yesudas has performed in many major cities around the world. In 1965, he was invited by the Soviet Union government to perform at music concerts in various cities in the USSR and also sang a Russian song over Radio Kazakhstan. Yesudas became one of the senate members in the International Parliament for Safety and Peace. On November 14, 1999, Yesudas was presented with an honorary award by UNESCO for “Outstanding Achievements in Music and Peace” at the “Music for Peace” event in Paris.a concert held to mark the dawn of the new millennium and whose attendees included artistes such as Lionel Richie, Ray Charles, Montserrat Caballé, and Zubin Mehta. In 1971, during the Indo-Pakistani War, Yesudas traveled all around Kerala with his musical troupe to raise funds for the Indian Prime Minister’s National Defense Fund. In 2001 he sang for album Ahimsa in Sanskrit, Latin and English and in a mix of styles including New Age and Carnatic. In his music concerts in the Middle East he sings Arabic songs in the Carnatic style. He frequently serves as a cultural ambassador for India through his performances abroad, promoting Indian music. In 2009 Yesudas began a cross-country musical campaign against terrorism in Thiruvananthapuram, with the motto ‘Music For Peace’. Kavita Karkare, wife of Hemant Karkare, handed over the torch to Yesudas to mark the launch of the ‘Shanthi Sangeetha Yatra’.
Yesudas is married to Prabha. They have three sons, Vinod, Vijay and Vishal. The second son Vijay Yesudas is a budding musician who won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer in 2007. The family is currently settled in Chennai and Trivandrum. He also owns estates in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA and Flower Mound, TX, USA for personal and business reasons.
In 1980 Yesudas established the Tharangani Studio at Trivandrum. In 1992 the office and studio were moved to Chennai, Tamil Nadu and the company was incorporated in the US in 1998. Tharangni Studio and Tharangni Records became a recording center in Kerala which, for the first time, brought out audio cassettes of Malayalam film songs in stereo. The record company also had a voice mixing studio in Studio27, Chennai. The studio continues to produce and present events of Yesudas both for film and Indian classical music concerts throughout the world.
Yesudas has recorded over 50,000 songs and has won scores of accolades including the coveted Padma Shri (1975), Padma Bhushan (2002) and seven National Awards for Best Playback Singer. He is the only singer who has been accorded the title Asthana Gayakan (official singer) of Kerala State.