R. Vedavalli was born in Mannargudi, Tamil Nadu, and India to Shri Ramaswami Iyengar and Padmasani Ammal in 1935. Her talent for music was identified early on by Sangita Kalanidhi Madurai Srirangam Iyengar, who brought the five year old a harmonium, and got her started on vocal lessons. The family moved to Madras in a few years time, and Vedavalli came under the tutelage of Sangita Kalanidhi Mudicondan Venkatarama Iyer.
From a very young age, Vedavalli won several awards in prestigious competitions including All India Radio’s first prize for Classical Music and Light Classical Music, awarded by the President of India. In 2000, she received the Sangeetha Kalanidhi, which is considered the highest award in Carnatic music. She is one of the few women to have received this honor.
She received a Central Government scholarship to specialize in Padams and Javalis with Smt Mukta, and in Pallavis with Shri Mudicondan Venkataramana Iyer. Though she has performed since childhood, it was Shri Ariyakudi who advised her to turn into a professional musician, when he heard her sing as an 18 year old. She has travelled throughout India and abroad in North America, South-East Asia, the Far East and the Gulf, giving concerts and lecture demonstrations.
Smt Vedavalli served in the Teacher’s College of Music of the Madras Music Academy for several years before becoming Professor of Vocal Music in the Government College of Music Adyar. She has thus shared her deep knowledge and extensive repertoire with numerous students at these institutions apart from training some privately. Among her disciples today are accomplished performers, resarchers, teachers and writers.
She is also trained in playing the veena, and has a good command over Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Tamil, which helps her sing with greater understanding or artha bhava. She now lives in Chennai with her husband Shri D.R. Santhanam, and mother Smt. Padmasani Ammal.