Sangeetacharya Mallikarjun Mansur was born on December 31, 1910 in a village in Dharwad district of Karnataka. He had four brothers and three sisters. His elder brother Baswaraj had his own theatre troupe. At the age of nine, Mallikarjun played a small part in a play. The experience fascinated him so much that he ran away from home and joined a touring drama troupe. Although his father brought him back home, the stage continued to fascinate him and he soon joined another touring theatrical company.
During a performance, Pandit Neelkantbuwa Jangam, a disciple of Pandit Balakrishnabuwa Ichalkaranjikar, renowned exponent of the Gwalior gharana, recognized his potential. Young Mallikarjun was taken to Meeraj and put through a grueling schedule of gurukul training. For 6 years his training began at 4 a.m. and continued for several hours. When he emerged from his training he was 18 and ready to perform at any concert.
The most memorable among his early concerts was the Ganesha Utsav concert in Mumbai, in which he sang for over six hours. In 1932, after a special audition by HMV, he cut his first gramophone record. But although he had made several discs for HMV when he was still in his early twenties, music did not become a paying profession to Mallikarjun until much later in life.
It was through the initiative of a friend that Ustad Manji Khan, son of Ustad Alladiya Khan of the Jaipur Gharana, noticed Mallikarjun. Already trained in the Gwalior style, Mallikarjun was able to absorb the rich Jaipur style. Unfortunately Ustad Manji Khan died prematurely in 1937. Ustad Alladiya Khan then asked his other son Ustad Bhurji Khan to continue Mallikarjun’s training. Although Mallikarjun Mansur`s gayakee was a blend of both gharanas, the virtuosity of the Jaipur gharana was more evident in his style. He could cast a hypnotic spell on his audience with his astounding breath control, the absolute purity of his swaras and the wonderful way in which he employed various embellishments. He sang for more than sixty years and there was always a special intensity to his singing, a special urgency and earnestness in his treatment of melody.
He performed regularly on radio and television and participated in numerous music conferences. He was director of HMV for a few years. He later joined Dharwad Radio Station as Music Director. His musical excellence earned him the `Kalidas Samman`, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Padmashree, the Padmabhushan and several other titles.
Mallikarjun had always led a simple life. He worshipped music and wanted to share its purity and joy with all his listeners. Worldly success meant little to him. Struck by lung cancer, the end came on Saturday September 12, 1992. In a Doordarshan interview telecast after his demise, he had expressed satisfaction at the vastly growing interest in classical music saying, `In the olden days we had so many veritable colossi in music of the highest calibre, but the audiences were small, exclusive and limited. Today, there are mammoth audiences, but sadly very very few musical giants left.`
His son and musical heir is Pandit Rajshekhar Mansur.