Music enthusiasts will remember SB John’s soothing vocals
Sunny Benjamin John, the legendary Pakistani singer, breathed his last on June 5. Born in 1934 in Karachi, he had become a household name overnight with his blockbuster song Tu jo nahin hai.
Music came naturally to him. His father was a harmonium player, and his mother would sing him hymns as a child. The environment and parental support provided him with the opportunity to polish his skills as a singer. After completing his schooling at St Paul’s English High School, he decided to pursue music full time. He joined Pandit Ram Chandra Trivedi at the Kalyan Sangeet Vidyala and was properly schooled him in singing.
Music runs in the family. One of SB John’s four sons is a singer, another a keyboard player and one plays the bass guitar. He was very proud of his children, not only as a father but also as a veteran musician. He would often call them “extraordinary musicians of Pakistan”. Robbin John and Donald John are now pursuing music careers in America.
John was famous in Pakistan, but he had a following worldwide, especially in India. Renowned director Mahesh Bhatt’s mother, was a fan of John’s song Tu jo nahin hai. Bhatt also offered Glenn John to sing in his movie Woh Lamhey. His voice was highly appreciated and praised.
Talat Mehmood, Hemat Kumar and Rafi were SB John’s favourite singers. He enjoyed singing many of their songs. SB John was the life of any singing event. After making acquaintance with Ahmed Rushdi, he introduced the latter as a singer. They would often perform together.
John was not happy with how he had sung Tu jo nahin hai for the recording and believed that he could do much better. “Kamal was the hero of the movie Savera, and it was the scene of his birthday in the movie where this song would be played. It was shot with Shamim Aara.” SB John recalled in an interview.
He said he was so heartbroken over how he had performed the song that he decided to give up music. “I sat in an auto rickshaw and the driver played Tu jo nahin hai, not knowing who his passenger was. At that moment, my heart lifted. I felt that I might have done something good after all.”
He was so heartbroken over how he had performed the song that he decided to give up music. “I sat in an auto, and the driver played Tu jo nahin hai, not knowing who his passenger was. At that moment, my heart lifted. I felt that I might have done something good after all.”
The first time he ever set foot in the Bombay Studio, John felt great anxiety. The producer asked his mentor if the boy could sing. After his performance, the very producer told John, “Sir, please don’t ever leave music.”
After several attempts, John finally reached the radio. In 1950, Mehdi Zaheer recognised his talent and launched him in his programme, Suni Huwi Dhunain. The 20-year-old was paid Rs 15. “There were two rooms, one was for transmission and the other was for drama, music and entertainment.” SB John recalled in an interview given to a YouTube channel.
In 1967, when TV was introduced in Karachi, John started singing gospel music on Christmas eve on TV.
The journey of becoming one of the best ghazal singers was not easy. John faced rejection on several occasions. The music directors would say his voice was not worthy of featuring in films. Still, he never abandoned hope. His steadfastness and talent eventually brought him extraordinary success. He would later sing many famous ghazals.
In writing and singing, Ae arz-i-watan tu hi bata, managed to evoke patriotic sentiments. SB John had immense love for his country and the Urdu language.
He was disappointed with the quality of music being produced recently. He once said that the music was now made to be watched and not enjoyed. Lyrics, he said, had lost significance.
Despite his fame and landing awards like the Pride of Performance in 2011, SB John sometimes felt that he was not given the importance singing legends should get. After a long pause in his music career, he was finally called to sit on the judges’ panel on Obharty Sitaray in 2019.
Music enthusiasts will remember SB John’s soothing voice for years.
The writer is an art, culture and entertainment journalist from Karachi, she can be reached at mmaheenaaziz @outlook.com