Renowned singer Sunny Benjamin John, known in showbiz circles and among his admirers as S.B. John, passed away in Karachi on Saturday after a long illness. He was 90.
He leaves behind four sons and a daughter.
According to his son Glenn, Mr John was born in October 1930 in Karachi. He studied at St Paul’s School after which he went to Kalyan Sangeet Vidyala, situated near Burns Road, to learn music from Pandit Ram Chandra Trivedi. He had gone there to learn the tabla but his guru told him that he should sing. At the time of partition of the subcontinent, his guru migrated to India.
Mr John began to perform professionally in 1950 when he joined Radio Pakistan. The love of music ran in his family as his grandfather, too, was an amateur vocalist. Mr John appeared a great deal on the Karachi stage but was catapulted to national fame after singing the song ‘Tu jo nahin hai to kuchh bhi nahin hai’ for the film Savera in 1959.
Although he had other film tracks to his credit, it was the above-mentioned song — written by Fayyaz Hashmi and composed by Master Manzoor Husain — for which he became famous. He also sang quite a few ghazals.
Talking to Dawn, his eldest son Robin John said, “He was a nice person and a good friend of his children. He would go for fishing and take us along. He was fond of hunting and cooking. I and one of my brothers have taken after him as far as cooking is concerned. Brothers Donald and Glenn joined the world of music like him.”
Music composer Arshad Mahmud said, “S.B. John was an interesting person. He always had so many anecdotes to tell about music. He knew a lot about music. I met him quite often, even when he used to work for a bank. He was into deep-sea fishing. I never had the chance to work with him but we used to meet quite often and whenever we ran into each other, we talked about music.
“He knew all Karachi-based musicians. Also, he was a good friend of Mehdi Hasan Khan Sahib. Both worked for Radio Pakistan where they became friends,” Mr Mahmud said.
Glenn John added, “He was an amazing dad, old fashioned but there was a great friend in him. However, he was a strict teacher when it came to music. He was disciplined about the art. He would not tolerate non-seriousness. He used to tell my mother that in school his children could speak in English but around the house they would have to speak in Urdu because it’s their mother tongue. He had a wide collection of books. He had the first print of the book Roots [by Alex Haley].”
Mr John was given the President’s Pride of Performance award in 2011.
His funeral services will be held after Mr Glenn, who lives in Sweden, arrives in Karachi.
Originally published in Dawn, June 6th, 2021