Mukesh Chandra Mathur was born in a small middle class family in Delhi on July 22, 1923. He was interested in acting and singing right from childhood and was a great fan and admirer of K. L. Saigal. In spite of the fact that he only studied till the 10th grade, he was able to obtain a good job as an assistant surveyor in the department of public works, where he worked for seven months. However fate had other plans for him. While in Delhi Mukesh had recorded some non-film songs secretly. Then, Mukesh was bitten by the Bombay bug like scores of other young people before and after him. He arrived in Bombay with the hope of becoming a movie star. He stayed with his relative the famous actor Motilal.
With Motilal's help, Mukesh got a role as an actor in the film Years later, he was to act again in Raj Kapoor’s Aah in 1953. His debut as a singer however came in the film Nirdosh with the song 'Dil Hi Bujha Hua..', then followed a duet with singer Kusum for the film Us Paar the song was 'Zara Boli Ri Ho..'. He later went on to sing the song 'Badariya Baras Gayi Us Paar..' with Khursheed in the film Moorti. By this time he had established a small place for himself in the hearts of his audience. Then came an important milestone in his life. The year was 1945 and Anil Biswaas asked him to record the song 'Dil Jalta Hai To Jalne De..' for the film Pehli Nazar. That song brought a still relatively unknown Mukesh to the altar of public fame. A legend was born and in the coming decades his golden voice would be heard in songs from Aag, Anokhi Ada and Mela across the entire nation.
In 1949, came another milestone in his life. His association with Raj Kapoor and Shankar- Jaikishan. Raj Kapoor had asked them to provide music for his R.K. films and Shankar- Jaikishan invited Mukesh to sing for them. The chartbusting success of the music in films like Awara and Shree 420 spread Mukesh’s voice all the way to Russia where even in the streets of Moscow you could hear people singing 'Awaara Hoon..' and 'Mera Joota Hai Japani..'.
Raj Kapoor being the astute filmmaker that he was understood the importance of good film music and the direct impact it had on the success or failure of a film at the box office. His personal interest in music helped him. He would review every tune with Shankar- Jaikishan and his personal approval was needed before a tune was selected for the final recording. Raj Kapoor was present at the studio during the recording of all his songs, personally cheering the orchestra. The result of such dedication can be seen years later when each new generation freshly discovers the gems that lie embedded on the sound-tracks of such movies as Aah, Awara, Barsaat, Shree 420, Anari, Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hai, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker and many more. With the success of Raj Kapoor was intertwined the success of Mukesh and Shankar- Jaikishan.
However life was not always that easy and smooth. Following Awaara's success, Mukesh almost ruined himself when he sidelined his singing career to pursue acting to try and make it as a singing star. Mashooqa (1953) with Suraiyya and Anuraag (1956) with Usha Kiron both sank at the box-office. He also did a small role as a tangewala enacting his own song - Choti si Zindagani in Raj Kapoor's Aah (1953). Wizened by the ordeal, Mukesh returned to playback singing only to find that offers had dried up. The situation reached a point that his children Nitin and Ritu were turned out of school as they were unable to pay their fees.
It was finally with 'Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai..' from Yahudi (1958), that Mukesh finally came back with a bang. Other hits that year like Madhumati, Parvarish and Phir Subah Hogi meant there was no turning back. Even S. D. Burman who had not utilized Mukesh's services for over a decade composed those two masterpieces for him - 'Chal Ri Sajni..' from Bombay ka Babu (1960) and 'O Jaanewaale Ho Sake To Laut Ke Aana..' from Bandini (1963). Mukesh thereafter flourished right through the 1960s and mid 1970s with soulful hits like 'Main to Ek Khwab Hoon..' from Himalay Ki God Mein (1965), 'Jeena Yahaan Marna Yahaan..' from Mera Naam Joker, 'Maine Tere Liye Hi Saat Rang Ke Sanpne Chune..' from Anand (1970), 'Main Na Bhoolonga..' from Roti, Kapda Aur Makan (1974) and of course 'Main Pal do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon..' and 'Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Me..' from Kabhi Kabhi (1976).
Among the other music directors for whom Mukesh sang a good number of his songs were Laxmikant Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, Salil Choudhary, Usha Khanna, R. D. Burman,etc. Another music director to have used Mukesh’s voice well was Khaiyyam. The lyrics of Sahir Ludhianvi, Khaiyyam’s music and Mukesh’s voice created magic in the film Kabhi Kabhi.
In 1974 Mukesh received a National award for the song 'Kai Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai..' sung in the film Rajinigandha composed by Salil Choudhary. His last recorced song was Chanchal, Sheetal, Nirmal, Komal from Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978). He died on 27th August 1976, of a sudden heart attack in Detroit, while on a concert tour of the U.S. Although he is no more, his ever green voice is still being heard in some remote corner or the other.