Last voice of the old Radio Ceylon vintage
Susil was a multi-talented artiste. He excelled as a vocalist,
painter and artist. His trademark was his soft, deep crooning voice. He
composed original tunes and sang them. The highlight was Roo Rese Andina
Lese the track which he sang with Lata Walpola
Susil Premaratne who died last week, aged 83, was a complete artist:
singer and painter. His baritone reminded you of India’s reputed film
singers K. L. Saigal and Mukesh. The painting brush rested easily in his
fingers - he was the only son of the famous painter of Buddhist murals
M. Sarlis; nephew of newspaper and book-cover artists G. S. Fernando and
G. L. Gautamadasa.
While GS was artist and caricaturist at Lankadipa under the newspaper
genius D. B. Dhanapala, Susil was his uncle’s both protege and
understudy. Soon the diminutive, shy bespectacled crooner was on his
At the rickety old Radio Ceylon down Cotta Road where the ancient
grandma mansion had only two studios to accommodate the stalwarts Ananda
Samarakone, Sunil Santha, C. T. Fernando, W. D. Albert Perera (Amaradeva)
and P. L. A. Somapala, Susil was the new arrival with the soft, deep
crooning voice, the voice with a difference.
Soon he was pushed up to the front ranks with another new find - Lata.
She was Jennie Fernando - Susil christened her Lata, after the
celebrated Lata Mangeshkar of India.
Susil Premaratne (mercifully) did not follow the old gramophone style
of music - parroting Hindi film songs substituted with inane Sinhala
lyrics. Susil composed his own melodies and sang them.
He was no virtuoso like Samarakone, Sunil Santha and Amaradeva but he
created original lilting songs that became instantly popular, beginning
with Suwanda Sukumali and Pem Kusume. His original creativity in music
peaked with the melodising of the classical Guttila poem Roo Rese Andina
Lese which he sang with Lata Walpola.
The national television in one of its rare good programs featured
Susil painting one of the Sigiri-like damsels on an easel standing
singing solo the same Guttila verse-song. It was a splendid TV frame -
the painter finishing off the lovely painting simultaneously with the
singer completing the song.
The unique thing about Susil was he was an independent singer. He did
not indulge in Bajavu musicals and hardly appeared in public
performances of pop music. Sometimes he came to Ananda College and sang
before student audiences. He was the retiring kind yet he was
unpretentious. Seated inside his car he would croon into the little
micro fan which was like a miniature mike to him.
He had a natural voice. Meeting you on some Fort street he would not
hesitate to entertain you with few bars from Roo Rese... he was an
Susil also contributed prolifically to pop cartoon art magazines. He
was a major artist at the Times drawing illustrations to all the
newspapers and occasionally turning out a political cartoon when uncle
GS was absent.
Perhaps the climax of his singing career was when he sang for the
late Maestro Mohamed Ghouse in B. A. W. Jayamanne’s Sangawunu Pilithura.
The Naushad Ali of Sri Lanka (Mohd. Ghouse whom BAW dubbed in the
titles Prof. Mohd. Ghouse in his only second Sinhala film after
Asokamala had composed some haunting melodies for the film-songs like
Pem Loka Rajani, Manahara Geetha Gayala - which Susil sang with the late
They were classics, like Ghouse’s creations in Asokamala, including
Susil’s solo Maa Hade. Susil was a super grade artiste at Radio Ceylon
when the Jayamannes contracted him to sing for Sengawunu Pilithura.
Perhaps Ghouse Master too was satisfied with Susil’s singing.
At a musical show in Kolonnawa organised by Siri Aiya, Susil was
singing squatting on stage. Behind the orchestra sat Mohamed Ghouse
before a foot-bellow seraphina.
He was smiling benevolently trying to pick Susil’s strains on the
seraphina. P. L. A. Somapala was helping the maestro with the peculiar
native nuances of the Susil melody. No doubt the Naushad Ali of Ceylon
was impressed by the young man. The result was the playback stint with