Updated: Feb 18, 2022
When we talk about the folk Music of Punjab, the name that pops up the mind is Surinder Kaur popularly known as the “Nightingale of Punjab”.
She was born on November 25th, 1929 into a Punjabi-Sikh family, in Lahore, the capital of then undivided state of Punjab. She was a premier in the genre of Panjabi folk music. She and her older sister Prakash Kaur were credited for pioneering and popularising the genre of Punjabi Folk music in the gramophone age.
At the age of 12, she and older sister Parkash together studied classical music under Muslim master Inayat Husain and Hindu master Pandit Mani Parshad. Surinder Kaur made her professional debut on Radio Lahore in August 1943, and the following year she and Parkash sung their first duet, “Maavan Te Teeyan Ral Baithiyaan,” for the HMV label, which made them a household name across the Indian subcontinent.
After the partition of India split the state of Punjab in 1947, Surinder Kaur moved to Delhi with her parents, and then to Bombay, the centre of the Hindi film industry, working as a film playback singer until 1952. Working as a film industry playback singer, she recorded one of her most memorable hits, “Badnam Na Ho Jaye Mohabbat Ka Fasaana” for the film Shaheed in 1949.
Upon returning to Delhi in 1952, Kaur married Joginder Singh Sodhi, a university literature professor who guided her career in the decades to follow. “He was the one who made me a star,” she later recalled. “He chose all the lyrics I sang, and we both collaborated on compositions.” Together Surinder Kaur and Sodhi wrote such classics as “Chan Kithe Guari Aai Raat,” “Lathe Di Chadar,” “Shonkan Mele Di,” and “Gori Diyan Jhanjran Sarke-Sarke Jandiye Mutiare” — they also served as the public face of the Indian People’s Theatre Association, an arm of the Indian Communist party, spreading messages of peace and love to the most remote villages of East Punjab.
In all Surinder Kaur recorded more than 2,000 songs, among them duets with Asa Singh Mastana, Harcharan Grewel, Rangilla Jatt, and Didar Sandhu. Although her life and collaboration with Sodhi was cut short upon the educator’s death in 1975, she continued the family’s creative tradition via duets with their daughter Dolly Guleria and granddaughter Sunaina, culminating in the 1995 LP “The Three Generations”.
In the year 1984, she was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Punjabi Folk Music. She also received the fourth highest civilian award, Padma Shri by the Government of India in the year 2006. She was also honored with the Millennium Punjabi Singer Award. She was conferred an Honorary Doctorate degree from the Guru Nanak Dev University in the year 2002.
In 2006 a prolonged illness prompted Kaur to seek treatment in the U.S. — she died in a New Jersey hospital on June 15 at the age of 77.