M.S.Subbulakhsmi was born to a musical family, in the temple town of Madurai, situated in the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. M.S. started learning Carnatic music from a very early age and released her first recording at the age of 10. She then began her Carnatic classical music training under Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and then Hindustani classical training under Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas. Her first public performance was during the Mahamaham festival at Kumbakonam. At 17, the child prodigy made her debut at the Madras Music Academy. Since then, she performed countless musical forms in different languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Sanskrit and Kannada.

M.S. became famous as a film actress. Her most memorable role was Bhaktha Meera in Meera (1945). The movie had M.S. sing the famous Meera bhajans, with Dilipkumar Roy as the music director. Those renditions by M.S. continue to enthrall listeners to this day. Following the success of the film she quit films and turned wholly to concert music.In total she has acted in five films spanning a decade. The list includes Sevasadanam, Savitri, Meera(Tamil) and Bhakti Meera( Hindi).

M.S. met Sadasivam, a freedom fighter, and a follower of Rajaji, in 1936. She married him in 1940 and their marriage spanned over 50 years. They had no children. Sadasivam had children from his previous marriage that M.S. treated as if they were her own children. They were named Radha, Vijaya. M.S and Sadasivam also raised Sadasivam's nephew Ramachandran (Ambi) and niece Thangam, who were orphaned at a young age. Radha frequently sang with M.S. in concert while Vijaya played the Tanpura. They lived in a mansion named "Kalki Gardens", and as Radha, Vijaya, Ambi and Thangam grew up, their children also lived in the mansion with M. S., or as they affectionately called her, Ammu Patti.

M.S. travelled to London, New York, Canada, the Far East, and other places as India's cultural ambassador. Her concerts at Carnegie Hall, New York; the UN General Assembly on UN day in 1966 (while U Thant was the Secretary General); the Royal Albert Hall, London in 1982; and at the Festival of India in Moscow in 1987 were significant landmarks in her career.

Mahatma Gandhi was so charmed of her Meera bhajans that he requested her to sing the song Hari Tum haro Jan ki bheer (Lord, please dispel the fear in mankind). A message had been sent to Madras that Gandhiji wished M.S. to render his favourite bhajan, "Hari tum haro", and a response had gone from husband Sadasivam to the effect that since she did not know how to sing this particular bhajan, somebody else could sing "Hari tum haro", and she could sing another bhajan. A reply had promptly come back on behalf of the Mahatma: "I should prefer to hear it spoken by Subbulakshmi than sung by others."

In the late 1950s, as she sang at the Ramakrishna Ashram in Delhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, was among the audience. At the end of the recital he was so moved that he bowed, and said, "What am I, a mere prime minister before a queen of music (he was to repeat it in every speech of his, praising her)."

Not unexpectedly, "she talks, sings and lives music twenty-four hours a day," and is deeply religious. The puja (prayer) room in her house has three life-size portraits of Sri Chandrashekarendra Saraswati Sankaracharya, the saint whom she calls "divinity in flesh and blood," and who has "been instrumental in restoring the faith and religious temperament of the people of Madras and reclaiming many to the path of God" in recent years. As her guru, he selected the verses for the highly popular record she made in 1970 of the Bhajagovindam (some 30 verses composed by the poet-philosopher Sankara in praise of Lord Krishna, which are both musical and of much philosophical content) and Vishnu Sahasranamam (a musical chant of the 1,000 names of Vishnu, one of the three main gods of the Hindu pantheon).

While Lata Mangeshkar called her Tapaswini (the Renunciate), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan termed her Suswaralakshmi (the goddess of musical notes), and Kishori Amonkar labeled her the ultimate eighth note or Aathuvaan Sur, which is above the seven notes basic to all music. Her many famous renditions of bhajans include the chanting of Bhaja Govindam, Vishnu sahasranama (1000 names of Vishnu) and the Venkateswara Suprabhatam (musical hymns to awaken Lord Balaji early in the morning).

She was widely honored, praised and awarded. Some of them more popular ones include Padma Bhushan in 1954, Sangeetha Kalanidhi in 1968 (literally, Treasure Chest of Music. She was the first woman recipient of the title), Ramon Magsaysay award in 1974, the Padma Vibhushan in 1975, the Kalidasa Sanman in 1988, the Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration in 1990, and the Bharat Ratna in 1998. She was also honored as the court-singer of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams.

Although she was bestowed with enormous prize moneys on these awards, she donated most of them to charity.

She was an ardent devotee of Kanchi Mahaswamigal and she rendered his composition Maithreem Bhajatha (O World! Cultivate peace) in her concert at the UN in 1966. She donated many of the royalties on several best sold records to many charity organizations.

With the death of her husband Sadasivam in 1997, she stopped all her public performances. M.S.Subbulakshmi died on December 11, 2004 after a brief illness, due to complications relating to pneumonia and cardiac irregularities.

M.S Subbulakshmi acted in three Tamil films. Her film 'Meera(1945) was a great hit and even the songs were hot chartbusters in those days. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru fell in love with M.S S's character played in that movie and appreciated her a lot for her performance and her songs in the movie.

She also played the role of Lord Narada in one film.