In the year 2007, Latha Walpola – celebrates 60th Anniversary
of her reign in singing overwhelmingly rising to the highest
echelons as the incontrovertible Nightingale of Sri Lanka.
Latha, born and bred in Galkissa emerged her inborn talents
of singing as a leading singer in a Church Choir. Known by her
childhood name as Rita Jenevi Fernando she was introduced to
then Radio Ceylon (Now-Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) at
the age of 13 years with her mother’s permission by her family
friend C.A.Fonseka, a popular Radio dramatist at the time. She
started her career in playing different characters in
C.A,Fonseka’s radio dramas very popular from late 50s to mid
60s. He was the father of Radio artist C.D.Fonseka.
In 1947 she made her debut in singing "Kandulu Denethe Vehena",
song composed by Vincent de Alwis, the versatile violinist at
Radio Ceylon and sang duets with him in his Sarala Gee Programs
conducted by Radio Ceylon. Observing her congenital talents and
skills Vincent de Alwis introduced her to Susil Premaratne and
C.T.Fernando. "Namo Mariyanee" recorded by her in 1948 with her
melodious voice became a household favorite in Sri Lanka
showered upon with outstanding success. "Seethala Duruthu Mahe",
"Mihiri Suwanda Vihiduwa" "Nunwa Jaya Handa Pem", "Soka Nege
Den", "Oba Prema Raja Mage" and many other songs recorded in
1948, 1949 and 1950 became highly popular together with Carroll
songs composed by Fr Mercelyn Jayakody.
She was fortunate to have recorded a few songs like "Sukomala
Banda Lelawa", "Dunhinda Helena" and "Diyaluma Helena"originally
sung by Chitra Somapala. By 1950 she became a shining spectacle
invading the living rooms of each and every household in Sri
Lanka by her beaming golden voice. Mohamed Ghouse,
P.L.A.Somapala and B.S.Perera the famous musicians at the time
brilliantly utilized her harmonious voice of high-pitched tone
into their musical creations.
It is hard to reminisce the exact number of songs that she
has recorded so far. The proximate number of songs she is
credited with could be penned 6000 as known at the 50th
Anniversary of Celebrations in 1997. Basically it is presumed
that the total number of songs would be 6500 by now.
In recognition of her miraculous voice par with the award
winning Latha Mangeshkar, Queen of Music in India, deep voice
playback singer Susil Premaratne named this future Nightingale
of Sri Lanka as one and only Latha of the island of Sri Lanka.
Latha made her debut in playback singing for film "Eda Rae"
in 1952 albeit it was screened in 1953. This sparkling artist
recorded songs for three films during the same year as an
amateur. Latha and Dharmadasa Walpola began their career as the
most successful playback singers by singing in "Prema
Tharangaya"for the first time. It is historically significant
that it was Music Director Muttusami’s first film too. The
melodious songs such as "Honda hondama veya lowa kisima thenaka
nehe", "Pera kala pawa paladee pape gewawi" have remained etched
in our memories for decades. Embraced with abundance of
affection and attachment, this singing duo got married and Latha
became known as Latha Walpola. By 1958 Latha & Dharmadasa were
the only two leading playback singers in Sri Lanka film
industry. Amazingly Latha had contributed to a record number of
22 films after five years of her debut in film industry that is
by 1958 while versatile actress-singer Rukmani Devi had made it
for only 10 films. During the last 54 years Latha has made a
reputation of recording for nearly 580 films some of which are
yet to be screened. Film.
It was a great honor to those Radio artists Susil Premaratne,
C.T.Fernando, C.D.Fonseka, Edward Perera, B.P.Wickremasinghe,
Clarence Wijewardana, Haroon Lanthra, Dharmadasa Walpola,
Mohideen Baig, W.D.Amaradeva, Milton Perera, H.R.Jothipala,
Victor Ratnayake, T.M.Jayaratne, Milton Mallawarachchi, Sanath
Nandasiri, M.S.Fernando, Rukhantha Gunatilleke, Gratien Ananda,
Samantha Perera, G.S.B.Rani Perera, Indrani Wijebandara and
Sujatha Attanayake to have absorbed into singing with this
acclaimed artist during the last six decades.
Music Directors Mohamed Ghouse, R.Mutthusami, B.S.Perera,
Sunil Shantha, R.A.Chandrasena, W.D.Amaradeva, P.L.A.Somapala,
Premasiri Khemadasa, Sarath Dassanayake, Stanley Pieris, Rohana
Weerasinghe and Samantha Perera thrilled with admiration of her
musical brilliancy have stimulated her contribution of
professional singing to their innovative creation of music.
The island recognized lyric writers Ananda Samarakoon
(Composer of the National Anthem), Arisen Ahubudu, Karunaratne
Abeysekera, Chitrananda Abeysekera, Hugo Fernando, D.T.Fernando,
Ananda Sarath Wimalaweera, Fr. Mercelyn Jayakody, Herbert M.
Seneviratne, Madawala S.Ratnayake, Chandraratne Manawasinghe,
Sunil Ariyaratne, Sunil Sarath Perera, Mahagama Sekera, Ajantha
Ranasinghe and Premakeerthi de Alwis shared their intellectual
compositions soaked with scintillating lyrics of touching
moments in life to this great unassuming singing persona who has
conquered the seven seas with an immense reservoir of singing
She holds the record for being the only artist to have sung
with South Indian musicians like Dakshinamurthi in film
‘Duppathage Duka" and "Suraya", Sathyamurthi, T.R.Papa, Jamuna
Rani, K.Rani, Saraswathi and Sri Lankan film stars Herby
Seneviratne, Dommie Jayawardana, Vijaya Kumaratunga and Ravindra
Latha the only Sri Lankan artist who was fortune to playback
singing under the direction of famous Indian Musicians such as
Darshana Murthi, S.S.Weda,T.R.Papa, R. Sundaranam , Raja
Thangendra, Gowradanam, and Jayadev.
Latha Walpola has made an exemplary contribution to enrich
Sinhala music with her unique style of singing in a lilting and
mellifluous voice that has captivated the hearts of young and
old equally at home and abroad with lasting memories. "Mathalang"
and "Ahankara Sthree" were two films of gorgeous music
orchestrated by Music Maestro R.Muttusami featuring the superior
skills of Dharmadasa and Latha. "Jevithe vikareki", "Lankaren
malak pipee" with Dharmadasa Walpola (Ahankara Sthree)", "Pem
mala gotha gele"with Dharmadasa, "Ranvan dul karalin pesila" (Mathalang)"
and "Loke jeevath vannata dedeneku one wei" with Clarence
Wijewardane (Janaka saha Manju) and hundreds of unforgettable
lovely songs remain delineated on the lips of music fans living
around the globe.
A special feature is that Latha has recorded play back
singing for every actress in Sinhala cinema except Rukmani Devi,
the Queen of Sinhala filmdom. She started playback singing for
Sita Jayawardana in film "Eda Rae" to present day Chaturika
Pieris and Anarkalee . In coincidence with her insurmountable
musical career, she not only sang playback for actresses Rohini
Jayakody and Girley Gunawardana in 50s and 60s but also enjoyed
the rare opportunity of singing behind their two actress
daughters Veena Jayakody and Sabita Perera in later years.
Since the inception of film industry in Sri Lanka it was she
who recorded playback singing for every main actress in Sinhala
films. Rukmani Devi sang only for her role by herself. Latha who
is recognized to be with a screen voice was aptly offered
playback singing for other actresses matching her voice with
As far back as 1960s it became largely a profitable business
to dub Sinhala dialogue into Hindi and Tamil movies running
popular in Sri Lanka. In most films the main actresses were
Vyjanthimala, Nimmi, Shawithri, Nanda Chitra Krishna Kumari,
Achala and Nadira. Latha Walpola was adjudged the best for her
pre-eminent singing over original playback singers in India.
Playback singing in films ‘Pathiwatha’, Ahinsaka Prayogya,Mage
Putha , Angulimala, Sudu Nangi, Shimbo,Veera Putha , Veera
Vicrama and ‘Anjalee’is a clear testament to her masterly
performance of fascinated singing.
In the initial stages of the emergence of film industry in
Sri Lanka, filming was done mostly in South India since advance
technology was not available in Sri Lanka. Propensity of the
producers to hire popular South Indian playback singers was
challenged by Latha Walpola singing 90% of songs with high
degree of unparalleled passion of melody. Indians sang one or
two songs for a lesser rate compared to Latha’s nearly 8 songs
in each film."Veera Vijaya", "Suraya".and Mathalan are the few
example. The most significant contribution she made to the Sri
Lanka film industry is that the way she challenged to Indian
artists and broken down their monopoly.
Latha is recognized as the only female singer who has a
combination of singing caliber of Classical songs, Chorus songs,
Baila songs, Vannam and Western songs.
It is said that Latha with Fanto Fernando sang a Western song
in the monthly musical program known by "Masika Renguma" music
orchestrated by B.S.Perera and conducted by the then Radio
Ceylon was vehemently criticized by the listeners for the mere
reason it was of westernized culture.
She is not only the leading playback singer but also
invariably the successful singer in Kalasuri Khemadasa’s famous
gee nalu ‘Bari Sil’, ‘Kela Mal’ and ‘Nawarella’. Kalasuri Latha
Walpola sang major songs in "Daskon" drama produced by Herberat
M. Senaviratne and in "Kumara Kassapa" opera telecast by the Sri
Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. It has been noted that currently
she has been singing the theme song in most of the television
In addition to her singing she has played a few mini roles in
"Eda Rae", "Prema Tharagaya" and "Radala Piliruwa" and shared
her acting capability while singing ‘Ale Nam Kale Nambuwa Soya’
in film "Radala Piliruwa".
The Buddhist jathaka story of ‘Angulimala’ filmed in Hindi
and later dubbed into Sinhala became a box office movie in Sri
Lanka in which Latha dubbed her pristine voice for world popular
Indian film star Nimmi.
She missed the golden opportunity of recordings with many
high profile singers and frequent travel to India for recordings
due her demand of highly expensive charges.
On account of her outstanding contribution to Sinhala music
during the last sixty years, Latha’s name will glow writ large
in letters of gold in the history of Sri Lankan music. It was
just after six years from her entrance to Kala Lokaya that a
certain popular newspaper conducted a gallop poll in 1953 to
determine the Best Female Singer in Popularity at the time.
Vasantha Sandanayake, Vivienne de Silva Boralessa and Latha
Jenevi Fernando became the first, second and third respectively.
In the latter part of 1960, a polling contest was organized
by the ‘Visithura’ cinema newspaper to determine the Best
Popular singer of the era. Latha polling a record highest number
of votes became the Best Popular Singer while W.D.Amaradeva,
Mohideen Baig, Dharmadasa Walpola and H.R.Jothipala respectively
won the second, third, fourth and fifth positions.
Latha the oleaginous four-time Sarasavi Award winner has won
the Golden Conch Award in 1995, Golden Jubilee Presidential
Award for Pioneers of Film Industry in 1997 and Appreciation
Award of OCIC among a number of other accolades presented to her
in recognition of her grandiose performance of indomitable
competence in singing.
In her accomplishment as the greatest artist of all times,
she won the Life Time Awards known as the Golden Swan Award
presented by the Lake House of the Associated Newspapers in
1992, OCIC Golden award in 2006, U.W.Sumathipala Memorial Award
by the Sumathipala Group and Swarnabhimani Golden Award by
In 1974 Deepasika Award was presented to her in appreciation
of her achievement as the only female singer who remarkably
contributed a maximum number of songs to the film industry in
As a tribute to her outstanding presentation of musical
brilliancy, the Government of Sri Lanka has quite appropriately
honored her with Kala Suri Award distinctively awarded to the
rare and precious greatness of inestimable contribution made to
Arts & Culture.
Latha, gifted with artistic aptitude albeit no education
background in music, has surprised the versatile musicians with
her adaptable high scale singing. She has developed her innate
talents during the last 60 years of singing with primordial
function of voice rising to the loftiest heights of her musical
career. Sri Lanka lends a degree of credence to her glistening
glory in music and owes a debt of gratitude for her admirable
dedication to music in entertaining the people home and the Sri
Lankan expatriates abroad. She is a National Treasure worthy of
emulation. Latha Walpola is the indisputable Nightingale of Sri