A playback singer is a singer whose singing is pre-recorded for use in movies. Playback singers record songs for soundtracks, and actors or actresses lip-sync the songs for cameras; the actual singer does not appear on screen.
South Asian movies produced in the Indian subcontinent are particularly known for using this technique. A majority of Indian movies as well as Pakistani movies, typically include six or seven songs. After Alam Ara (1931), the first Indian talkie film, for many years singers made dual recordings for a film, one during the shoot, and later in the recording studio, until 1952 or 1953. Popular playback singers in India enjoy the same status as popular actors, and music directors, such as Rahul Dev Burman (1939–1994), Ilaiyaraaja and A. R. Rahman, also receive wide public admiration. Most of the playback singers are initially trained in classical music, but they later often expand their range.
Mohammad Rafi and Ahmed Rushdi, both are regarded as two of the most influential playback singers in South Asia. The sisters Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, who have mainly worked in Hindi films, are often referred to as two of the best-known and most prolific playback singers in India. In 1991, Mangeshkar was cited by the Guinness Book of World Records for having sung more than 30,000 solo, duet and chorus-backed song recordings, more than any other singer in the world., However, her name was removed in 1991 and replaced by another Indian playback singer, Dr K J Yesudas in 1991. All India Record. In 2011, Guinness officially acknowledged Lata Mangeshkar's sister Asha Bhosle as the most recorded artist in music history, surpassing her sister.
Popular Indian singers include Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, Asha Bhosle, Bhupen Hazarika, KJ Yesudas, S. P. Balasubrahmanyam , Mukesh, Talat Mahmood, Manna Dey, Hemant Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor, Noor Jehan, Shamshad Begum, Suraiya, Mubarak Begum Sandhya Mukherjee, Sabina Yasmin, Kishore Kumar, Geeta Dutt, Anuradha Paudwal, Arijit Singh, S.P. Balasubramaniam, K. S. Chitra, S. Janaki, Vani Jayaram, Papon, P. Leela, Swarnalatha, Shreya Ghoshal, Sadhana Sargam, Alka Yagnik, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Mano, Sujatha Mohan, Anuradha Sriram, Harini, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Sonu Nigam, K.K., Shaan, Himesh Reshammiya, Mika Singh, Rajesh Krishnan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shweta Subram, Swetha Mohan, Zubeen Garg.
Famous Pakistani playback singers include Ahmed Rushdi, Mehdi Hassan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Nazia Hassan, Alamgir, Masood Rana, Adnan Sami Khan, Noor Jehan, Mala, Atif Aslam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Zafar, Ghulam Ali, Runa Laila, Hadiqa Kiani, Alycia Dias, Saleem Raza, Akhlaq Ahmed, Mujeeb Aalam, Asad Amanat Ali Khan, Bashir Ahmad, Ustad Amanat Ali Khan, Abrar-ul-Haq, Abida Parveen, Adnan Sami Khan, Ali Azmat, Brian O'Connell, Farrukh Fateh Ali Khan, Fariha Pervez, Ghulam Haider, Humera Arshad, Jawad Ahmad, Sajjad Ali, Salma Agha, Muhammad Juman, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Waqar Ali, Zohaib Hassan and A Nayyar.
Playback singing is not as common in contemporary Hollywood as musicals are less frequent. It was, however, more widely used in the past. Notable Hollywood performances include Marni Nixon in West Side Story for Natalie Wood's portrayal of Maria, Deborah Kerr's Anna Leonowens in The King and I and Audrey Hepburn's Eliza in My Fair Lady, Bill Lee singing for John Kerr's Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific and for Christopher Plummer's Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Lindsay Ridgeway for Ashley Peldon's character as Darla Dimple in the animated film Cats Don't Dance, Claudia Brücken providing the singing voice for Erika Heynatz's character as Elsa Lichtmann in L.A. Noire, and Betty Noyes singing for Debbie Reynolds in Singin' in the Rain, a movie in which playback singing is a major plot point.