A M Rajah or Aemala Manmatharaju Rajah was born on July 1 1929 at Ramachandrapuram in Chitoor district of Andhra Pradesh.When he was three months old his father passed away.The family shifted to Renukapuram where his studies began He moved to Madras for graduate studies and passed B A from the Pachaiyppa's College,Madras in 1951. He won many first prizes in Pachayappa's College music competitions.
S P Balasubramanyam are considered to be the all time super star singers of south Indian film music in terms of their fame and number of songs they have sung.But A M Rajah stands out in this list with his exceptional ability to excel in soft romantic melodies.He was undoubtedly the most soulful voice among them all.
A M Rajah was an accomplished music director and may be the only successful composer-singer of south Indian films.Even in Hindi one can not find any successful singer composer like him may be with an exception of Hemant Kumar.Most of the songs composed by A M Rajah reached the peak of popularity though they all were uncompromising melodies.
His first attempt as a composer was for the Telugu film Sobha in 1958 which turned out to be a great success.Pelli Kaanuka of 1960 established him as a music director of substance in Telugu.Kalyana Parisu of 1959 was director Sridhar's debut film which enjoyed huge box-office popularity.This was also the debut of A M Rajah in Tamil as a composer.This film was one of Gemini Ganesan's biggest hits ever.In playback, what Mukesh was for Raj Kapoor, was A M Rajah for Gemini Ganesan.Their voice matching was impeccable.It is also to be remembered that when Sivaji Ganesan forayed into film production with Prabhuram pictures, he selected A M Rajah as the music director for the film ‘Vidi Velli’. A M Rajah's tryst with composing includes super duper hit songs from the films ‘Aadi Perukku’, ‘Anbukkor Anni’ and ‘Thean Nilavu’ and he is widely admired for his great composing skills till this day.His composing style was typically soft like his voice.Rhythmic melodies of sheer originality were his strength and forte.That was a time when A M Rajah was the true raja of Tamil Film Music.
A M Rajah was the only male singer who was equally successful in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. He entered Malayalam cinema with the film Lokaneethi in 1952 under the baton of the famous composer V.Dakshinamurthy.Though A M Rajah hailed from Andhra Pradesh and had pronunciation problems with certain Malayalam syllables, Malayalees accepted him as Kerala's own singer.In Malayalam he achieved super star status in the 1960s, mainly as the singing voice of the great actor Satyan.
Famous Malayalam music director Devarajan who composed many songs of A M Rajah testified in a book that A M Rajah a very nice person with a pure heart and straight forward attitude.A M Rajah’s melodious songs in Malayalam films continue to charm.There is a sweet freshness, which makes A M Rajah an all time favourite of Malayalam music listeners.
Being a man always on the move and who never regretted his stands,he went on doing music programs all over the world with his wife,strictly singing only his own songs.Ilayaraja was a guitarist in his troupe for some time.He was getting good income from his tourist cars business too.
Years later, in the early 1970s,it was director V.Kumar coaxed A M Rajah to come out of his self-imposed exile.The lilting rhythmic melodies ‘Mutharame un oodal ennavo’ in Rangaraattinam and ‘Senthamaraiye Senthean Idhazhe’ from Puguntha Veedu,both composed by Shankar Ganesh established the come back of A M Rajah.The composer in A M Rajah too did make a good come back with ‘Raasi Nalla Raasi’ for film Veettu Mappillai of 1973.He composed the songs of Enakkoru Magan Pirappaan in 1975.
A M Rajah sang for films like Thaikku Oru Pillai, Veettu Maappillai, Veettukku Vandha Marumagal, Paththu Maadha Bandham, Enakkoru Magan Pirapaan, Anbu Roja and Ithu Ivargalin Kadhai in 1970s. He also composed music for a Malayalam film named Amma Enna Sthree In 1970 which had 6 songs in it. Jikki too had a fine second coming in 1970s which extended for many more years from ‘Kaadhalennum Kaaviyam’ for Vattathukkul Sathuram in 1978 by Ilayaraja to ‘Vanna vanna metteduthu’ from Senthamizh Paattu in 1993 by M S Viswanathan-Ilayaraja.
In an interview to Indian Express in 1987 Rajah seemed to have come to terms with his brief but fascinating spell as singer and musician.He said – ‘I am really happy that my songs are still remembered and loved.I still make a living out of singing them on stage.That is why I have no regrets about the setbacks I have had to face in my life and in my career as a musician’.He had become philosophical and said ‘It was destiny.I achieved what I sought to, although the ambition to do still better does not leave me.I can tune better melodies than I did for films like ‘Kalyana Parisu’ and ‘Thean Nilavu’.But I am truly and deeply satisfied too.I wanted to sing for films. I did.I yearned to make a name as a music director.I did that too’.
A M Rajah was active on stage singing till the last day of his life.While returning in train from a music concert in Koottalumoodu,a hamlet in Kanyakumari district, he was worried and tensed about a helper boy in his troupe who missed the train.Just one false step proved fatal while boarding back to the moving train at Valliur railway station in Tirunelveli district on April 8th 1989.He slipped and fell between the track and platform even as Jikki sat inside the train and watched helplessly.