The birth name of Shobha Gurtu was Bhanumati Shirodhkar, Shobha was born in Belgaum, Karnataka in 1925, where she was first trained by her mother Menekabai Shirodkar, a professional dancer, and a ‘gayaki’ disciple of Ustad Alladiya Khan of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana.
Her formal music training began with ‘Ustad Bhurji Khan’, the youngest son of Ustad Alladiya Khan, the founder of the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana in Kolhapur, from whom her mother was learning at the time, while she was still a younger girl, and seeing her talent, Ustad Bhurji Khan’s family immediately took a liking of her, and she started spending long hours with them. Her ties with the Jaipur-Atrauli Gharana were to strengthen still, when she started learning from, Ustad Alladiya Khan’s nephew Ustad Natthan Khan; though she really came into her own under the tutelage of Ustad Ghamman Khan, who came to stay with their family in Mumbai, to teach her mother thumri-dadra and other semi-classical forms
Shobha married Vishwanath Gurtu and took the name Shobha Gurtu. Her father in law, ‘Pandit Narayan Nath Gurtu’, was a highly placed officer in the Belgaum Police, a scholar and a sitar player. Her son Trilok Gurtu is a famed percussionist. Her other son is Narendra. Her third and the eldest son Ravi gurtu was a rhythm player.
Shobha specialized in semi-classical forms as thumri, dadra, Kajri, Hori,etc., effortlessly adding pure classical passages into her singing, thus creating a new form, and reviving the magic of forms like Thumri, of which she became the greatest exponent in time. She was particularly influenced by singer Begum Akhtar and Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.
She became widely popular in Thumri and started performing Thumri in various concerts. Soon she attained the tag of ‘Thumri Queen’. The Gramophone Company of India released her debut album ‘At Her Best…Shobha Gurtu’ in 1979. This album is considered as one of the highest-ranked classic recordings which display her glaring voice, greatly rooted in the musical style of Up during the 19th century. She along with Ghazal King Mehdi Hassan has released a Ghazal album titled Tarz.
Both of the forms, light music songs, and classical songs were widely popular. It was her Thumri that earned her worldwide recognition. She was also well-known for the ‘Abhinaya’ and in her boisterous voice. Since she was specialized in semi-classical forms like Dadra, Kajri, Hori, and Thumri, she improvised them by blending with sheer classical music.
That is one of the main reasons why her Thumri is so famous. She has also sung few Bollywood songs as well, among them the most popular was “Saiyan Rooth Gaye” from the film Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki-in 1979. In her illustrious career, she has won numerous Awards and Indian Government awarded her with Padma Bhushan Award in 2002.