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Published on Jan 14, 2010
Surashri Kesarbai Kerkar सुरश्री कॆसरबाई कॆरकर) (July 13, 1892 September 16, 1977) was an Indian classical vocalist of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. She is considered one of the finest and most powerful Indian classical singers of the 20th century. Born in the tiny village of Keri (also spelled "Querim"), in the Ponda taluka of North Goa, Goa (then a Portuguese colony), at the age of eight Kerkar moved to Kolhapur where she studied for eight months with Abdul Karim Khan. Upon her return to Goa, she studied with the vocalist Ramkrishnabuwa Vaze (1871-1945). At the age of 16 she migrated to Mumbai, where she studied with various teachers, eventually ending up as disciple to Ustad Alladiya Khan (1855-1946), the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana, beginning in 1921. Kerkar eventually achieved wide renown, performing regularly for aristocratic audiences. She was very particular about the representation of her work and consequently made only a few 78 rpm recordings, for the HMV and Broadcast labels. Kerkar was awarded the decoration of Padma Bhushan by the government of India in 1969, and in the same year the government of the Indian state of Maharashtra conferred upon her the title of "Rajya Gayika." Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is said to have been very fond of Kerkar's singing. Her honorific title "Surashri" (or "Surshri") literally means "excellent voice" (sur meaning "voice" and shri meaning "excellent), and was bestowed on her in 1948 by the Sangeet Pravin Sangitanuragi Sajjan Saman Samiti of Calcutta. In her ancestral village of Keri, the Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar High School now occupies the site of Kerkar's former second home, and the house where she was born still stands, less than one kilometer away. A music festival called the Surashree Kesarbai Kerkar Smriti Sangeet Samaroha is held in Goa each November and a music scholarship in her name is awarded annually to a University of Mumbai student. Kerkar has the further distinction of having one of her recordings, "Jaat Kahan Ho", duration 3:30 (an interpretation of raga Bhairavi) included on the Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated copper disc containing music selections from around the world, which was sent into space aboard the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts in 1977. The recording was recommended for inclusion on the Voyager disc by the ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown, who believed it to be the finest recorded example of Indian classical music. Since 2000, several CDs of her archival recordings have been released, including one on the Golden Milestones series, which contains several of her most famous songs.