Latha’s lilting songs still reverberate
Latha Walpola, the living legend of playback singing turned 80 on
November 11. She sang over seven decades for many Sinhala films.
Latha was born into a family of six. Her father was Joseph Leenus
Fernando. He did not encourage her to sing. Her mother Elizabeth Muriel,
however, always encouraged her to sing.
As a student at St.Anthony’s College, Mount Lavinia she honed her
skills singing in the Church choir. She also led the Church choir as a
small girl. She was introduced to the then Radio Ceylon (Sri Lanka
Broadcasting Corporation) at the age of 12 with her mother’s permission
by her family friend C.A.Fonseka, a popular radio dramatist at the time.
At the beginning she sang for C.A. Fonseka’s Sarala Gee program as a
member of choir with his son C.D Fonseka.
In 1947 she made her debut as a singer by singing Kandulu Denethe
Vehena, written by Sarath Wimalaweera.
The music was composed by Vincent de Alwis, the versatile violinist.
She later sang duets with him in his Sarala Gee programs. Vincent de
Alwis introduced her to Susil Premaratne and C.T.Fernando.
Her song Namo Mariyanee was recorded in 1948. it became an instant
hit. Then she sang Seethala Duruthu Mahe, Mihiri Suwanda Vihiduwa, Nunwa
Jaya Handa Pem, Soka Nege Den, and Oba Prema Raja Mage.
She sang a few songs such as Sukomala Banda Lelawa, Dunhinda Helena
and Diyaluma Helena originally sung by Chitra Somapala. In 1950 she
became the leading female singer. Sri Lanka’s celebrated musicians such
as Mohamed Ghouse, P.L.A. Somapala and B.S. Perera immediately
recognised her talents and invited her to sing for their creations, upto
now she has sung.
Latha made her debut in playback singing for the film Eda Rae in
1952. Latha and Dharmadasa Walpola began their career as the most
successful playback singers by singing in Prema Tharangaya for the first
It was music director Muttusami’s first film.
The melodious songs such as Honda Hondama Veya Lowa Kisima Thenaka
Nehe and “Pera Kala Pawa Paladee Pape Gewawi” still remain etched in our
memories. The singing duo got married and Latha became known as Latha
Walpola. By 1958 Latha and Dharmadasa were the only two leading playback
singers in Sri Lanka. Latha has sung for 22 films.
Latha has made a great contribution to the Sinhala music scene with
her unique style of singing in a lilting voice. Latha and Walpola sang
to Ahankara Sthree for which the music was R. Muttusami.Latha has sung
for almost every actress in the Sinhala cinema except Rukmani Devi.
Latha sang for Khemadasa’s Gee Nalus such as Bari Sil, Kela Mal and
Nawarella. Latha also sang for Daskon drama produced by Herbert M.
Seneviratne and Kumara Kassapa an opera.
Even at present she sings the theme songs for teledramas. In addition
to her singing she has played a few minor roles in Eda Rae, Prema
Tharagaya and Radala Piliruwa.
Latha has won the Sarasavi Award, Golden Conch Award, Golden Jubilee
Presidential Award, OCIC Awards, Golden Swan Award, Lake House Award,
Deepasika Award, U.W.Sumathipala Memorial Award and Swarnabhimani Golden
The writer is a former Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications,
Sri Lanka Export Development Board and former -Director of Sri Lanka
Trade Centre in Maldives.