Mukesh Chandra Mathur was born on 22 July 1923, in a small middle class family in Delhi. The young boy was interested in acting and singing. Mukesh only completed his class 10 but was still able to obtain a good job as an Assistant Surveyor in the Department of Public Works.
Mukesh initially used to record his songs in Delhi but later went to Bombay as he had dreams of becoming a movie star.
Motilal, his relative, was the first person in the film industry who noticed Mukesh’s talents in singing and acting and took him to Pandit Jaganath Prasad for singing lessons. During this time Mukesh was given a chance to act in a Hindi film ‘Nirdosh’ (1941) which failed at the box office. Mukesh had his first break as a singer in the industry in 1945. The song ‘Dil Jalta Hai to Jalne De’ from the film ‘Pehli Nazar’ was a huge hit but many critics complained that the voice of Mukesh resembled that of the legendary singer K.L.Saigal.
Mukesh finally found his own voice and style when he sang for the movies ‘Mela’ (1948) and ‘Andaz’ (1949). All his four solos from the movie ‘Andaz’ - ‘Tu Kahe Agar’, ‘Jhoom Jhoom ke Naacho Aaj’, ‘Hum Aaj Kahin Dil Kho Baite’, ‘Toote Na Dil Toote Na’ were big hits. The Mukesh-Raj Kapoor combination was the most successful of all. His partnership with actor Raj Kapoor started with ‘Aag’ (1948). The movies ‘Awaara’ (1951), ‘Shree 420’ (1955), ‘Parvarish’ (1958), ‘Anadi’ (1959), ‘Sangam’ (1964), and ‘Mera Naam Joker’ (1970) had superhit songs. Songs like ‘Awaara Hoon’, ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’, ‘Aansoo Bhari Hai’, ‘Sab Kuch Seekha Humne’, ‘Dost Dost Na Raha’, ‘Jaane Kahan Gaye Woh Din’ and many others were successful.
Mukesh and his career took a downfall after ‘Awaara’ as he decided to concentrate his efforts on acting. ‘Mashuq’ (1953) with actor Suraiya and ‘Anuraag’ (1956) with actor Usha Kiron were both major flops. Mukesh later returned to playback singing but had to struggle initially during his comeback period. His children Nitin and Ritu were turned out of school as they were unable to pay their tuition fees. Mukesh finally came back with a bang with ‘Yeh Mera Deewanapan Hai’ from ‘Yahudi’ (1958). He also charted hit songs with movies like ‘Madhumati’, ‘Parvarish’ and ‘Phir Subah Hogi’. S D Burman later helped Mukesh in composing ‘Chal Ri Sajni’ from Bombai ka Babu (1960) and ‘O Jaanewale Ho Sake To Laut ke Aana’ from ‘Bandini’ (1963).
In the 1960s and mid 1970s Mukesh tasted success with soulful hits like ‘Main to Ek Khwab Hoon’ from ‘Himalay ki God Mein’ (1965)), ‘Jeena Yahaan Marna Yahaan’ (Mera Naam Joker), ‘Maine Tere Liye Hi Saat Rang Ke Sanpne Chune’ and ‘Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaaye’(Anand), ‘Main Na Bhoolonga’’ from ‘Roti, Kapda Aur Makan’ (1974)) and ‘Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon’ and ‘Kabhi Kabhie Mere Dil Mein’ (Kabhi Kabhie (1976).
Mukesh received the National Award in 1974 for the song ‘Kahin Baar Yun Bhi Dekha Hai’ from ‘Rajnigandha’ and Filmfare Awards for ‘Sab Kuch Seekha Humne’ (Anari - 1959), ‘Sabse Bada Nadaan Wahi Hai’ (Pehchan - 1970), ‘Jai Bolo Beiman Ki’ (Be-Iman - 1972), (‘Kabhi Kabhie’(1976). His last song was ‘Chanchal, Sheetal, Nirmal, Komal’ from the movie ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’. The song was released after his death.
Mukesh had 5 children, one of them Nitin Mukesh, being a famous singer as well. He is the grandfather of actor Neil Nitin Mukesh. On 27th August 1976 Mukesh passed away due to a sudden heart attack during a concert in Detroit, USA.