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KV Narayanaswamy

KV Narayanaswamy (November 15, 1923 - April 1, 2002), is widely considered to be among the finest Carnatic music vocalists of the 20th century.

Born to a Palakkad Iyer family in Palghat, a district renowned for its cultural and musical traditions in Kerala, he learned basic music lessons from his father Fiddle Viswanatha Bhagavatar and grandfather Narayana Bhagavatar. Ramanarayanan first began extensive training under Mridangam maestro, Padma Bhushan Palghat Mani Iyer, who proceeded to place him under the tutelage of Sangeetakalacharya C.S. Krishna Iyer, a highly competent vocalist, musicologist and composer in Palghat, and then under violinist and Sangeetha Kalanidhi Papa Venkataramiah.

In 1942, Ramanarayanan entered the home of Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar and remained an ardent disciple until the latter's death in 1967.

Starting off with a Madras Music Academy concert in 1954, in which he was accompanied by doyens Palghat Mani Iyer and Papa Venkataramayya, Narayanaswamy’s career kicked off. Then over the years he performed with legends of percussion as Palani Subramaniam Pillai, Palghat R. Raghu, Mavelikkara Velukkutty Nair, and Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman, among others.

On being made professor of music at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, between 1965–67, he went on a coast-to-coast concert tour of USA. He was one of four artists including Bismillah Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and Ravi Shankar who participated in the hugely popular Hollywood Bowl music festival in Los Angeles in the summer of 1967.In 1974, KVN went to teach in Berkeley, California for a year, in the company of dancer Balasaraswati and sitarist Nikhil Banerjee. Invited by the American Society of Eastern Arts, he traveled to North America, Europe (Berlin Music Festival in 1976) and Australia (Adelaide Arts Festival in 1988) multiple times thereafter on various concert tours. He also joined the Music College in Madras as a lecturer in 1962 when Musiri Subramania Iyer was its principal, and retired as Professor of Music in 1982. In 1984, Narayanaswamy was to become the first Indian musician to be awarded the Fulbright Scholarship and went to San Diego State University in California as an artist-in-residence under the scholarship. For nine months he taught at the university and gave performances all over North America.

Some of his leading disciples were Padma Narayanaswamy, renowned flautist Shashank Subramanyam, vocalist K.V.Ananthan, violinist and vocalist Hemmige V.Srivatsan, Padma Sandilyan, Hemmige S.Prashanth, Pattabhirama Pandit M.R.Subramaniam, T S Ranganathan, Manipallavam K.Sarangan and Balaji Prasath.

He has received the President of India’s Padma Shri in1976, Central Sangeet Natak Academi Award in 1976 and Madras Music Academy’s Sangita Kalanidhi Award, 1986, among others.