Born on 6th November, 1942, Lalith Rao, showed an uncanny fondness for classical music right from her childhood. Perhaps her tryst with the Agra Gharana began at the age of 3, she sat through an entire four-hour recital of Ustad Faiyaz Khan, completely fascinated and spellbound.
She began training under Pandit Rama Rao Naik, a disciple of this gharana. Lalith gave her first public performance at the Bangalore Sangeet Sabha in 1955 at the age of 12. In 1957, while still in school, she participated in Sur Singar Sansad`s All India Classical Music competition in Mumbai for budding musicians under the age of 30, and won the first prizes even though she was only just over 14. The same year she participated in the Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan and became the youngest participant of this prestigious event. She received rave reviews.
A brilliant and versatile student, after she finished her B.Sc. she undertook a degree course Electrical Communication engineering and went on to do her post graduation abroad. However, during the arduous engineering course, music had to be relegated somewhat to the background.
Her marriage to Jayavanth Rao in 1967 brought her to Delhi. Lalith was keen on pursuing a career in her very specialized field of engineering, but her husband`s coaxing finally took her back to classical music. It began with a short stint with Pandit Dinkar Kaikini, who initiated Lalith`s return to her musical roots. Soon after, Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan, the doyen of the Agra-Atrauli Gharana, came into her life. He thoroughly polished her singing style and taught her the finer aspects of the Gharana, as well as numerous ragas and bandishes.
However, having virtually given up music for a number of years, she had to start all over again from the bottom rung of the musical ladder. So she decided to perform at the same Sangeet Sammelan in whose music competition she had won the first prize more than two decades ago. Her rendering was acclaimed as the best recital of the Sammelan and the newspapers announced that a new star had arrived in the musical firmament.
That was probably the turning point in her career, as engineering slowly but surely started to recede into the background and music became her full-time pursuit. Thereafter she went on to perform in the Swami Haridas Sangeet Sammelan and later in almost all the music circles and major musical events all over the country. She regaled her audiences with her rich repertoire comprising Khayal, Dhrupad, Dhamar, Thumri, Tarana, Hori, etc. She was particularly acclaimed for her delineation of a wide variety of ragas bringing out their aesthetics and purity. She also developed her own unique style of singing taranas under the guidance of her Ustad. In 1981 she undertook her first concert tour abroad, performing in France, the UK and all over USA and Canada. Since then she has performed abroad several times. A Top Grade artiste of the AIR, she performs regularly on the Radio and Television. She has many commercial albums to her credit.
In the mid `70s Lalith, along with other disciples and admirers of Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan, started a music organisation in Mumbai called Sajan Milap, named after Sajan Piya the nom de plume of the Ustad. She also spent a few years (1989-91) with ITC Sangeet Research Academy as their first Chief Co-ordinator for an archival project funded by the Ford Foundation. Later, in 1993, at the invitation of the Ethno-Musicology Department of the University of Washington in Seattle, she herself rendered nearly 500 traditional Agra-Atrauli Gharana compositions in a wide variety of ragas for their archival project.
Sometime in 1993-94, Lalith faced one of the most traumatic periods of her career when she lost her voice on the eve of a tour of Europe. Under the guidance of Peter Harrison, she slowly regained her voice. She has now resumed her musical pursuits, having relocated to Bangalore and is also actively grooming talented disciples.