Mohammed Rafi (December 24, 1924 – July 31, 1980) was an Indian playback singer. He has sung in many Indian languages, including Hindi, Urdu,Punjabi, Marathi and Telugu, but he is chiefly remembered for his songs from Hindi cinema (also known as Bollywood). His songs are widely popular in the Indian subcontinent. Along with Mukesh and Kishore Kumar, he was one of the three leading male Bollywood playback singers from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Mohammed Rafi was born at Kotla Sultan Singh (or Kotla Sultanpur), a town near Amritsar in undivided Punjab now in India.His father was Hajji Ali Mohammad, and he had five older brothers. Rafi, whose nickname was Pheeko, started singing by imitating chants of a fakir in his village. In 1935-36, Rafi's father shifted to Lahore, and the rest of the family followed later. Rafi's family managed a men's salon in Lahore's Noor Mohalla. His elder brother-in-law Mohammed Hameed was aware of Rafi's love for music and encouraged it. Rafi learnt Hindustani classical music from Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Abdul Wahid Khan, Pandit Jiwanlal Matto and Firoze Nizami.
One day Rafi and his brother-in-law Hameed went to attend a performance by K. L. Saigal. But the legendary singer refused to sing because there was a power failure at the venue. Hameed went up to the organizer to ask whether his brother-in-law could sing to keep the audience quiet. That was Rafi's first public performance, at the age of 13. Rafi was noted by the composer Shyam Sunder, who gave him a chance to sing a duet Soniye nee, Heeriye nee with Zeenat Begum, in the Punjabi film Gul Baloch in 1942 (the film was released in 1944). Rafi was also invited by the Lahore radio station to be a permanent singer with them.
Rafi established himself as the number one playback singer in Bollywood with the songs of Baiju Bawra (1952). The songs from Baiju Bawra, O duniya ke rakhwale and Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj established Rafi's credentials. The newly-started radio program Binaca Geetmala also played the songs, leading to an increase in their popularity. It is said that Talat Mahmood used to be Naushad's favorite singer. Once Naushad found Talat smoking during a recording. Annoyed, he hired Rafi to sing for Baiju Bawra. Rafi was a devout Muslim refrained from smoking and drinking alcohol. Later, Naushad started using Rafi as the male voice in almost every song composed by him. Rafi sang a total of 149 songs (81 of them solo) for Naushad.
Between 1950 and 1970, Rafi was the most sought after singer in Bollywood, some say, at the expense of the careers of contemporaries like Manna Dey, Talat Mahmood, and Hemant Kumar. He did playback singing for all the major male stars in Hindi films until his death. In 1965, he was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Sri award. Rafi recorded two hindi songs in English on 7" release in 1968. He also sang a song in Creole language, while his visit to Mauritius in the late 1960s. Rafi recorded two English albums. One of them is Pop Hits. In Bollywood, yodeling is generally associated with Kishore Kumar. But Rafi also used yodeling in some of old songs, such as Hello sweety seventeen (duet with Asha Bhosle), O Chale ho kaha, Dilke Aine main, Unse Rippy Tippy Ho gayee (duet with Geeta Dutt).