Singh is credited for the revival and popularity of ghazal, an Indian classical art form, by simplifying the complex form of ghazals into a simpler form of ghazals by amalgamating ghazal and geet. His music became popular in mass media through films such as Prem Geet (1981), Arth and Saath Saath (1982), and TV serials Mirza Ghalib (1988) and Kahkashan (1991). Jagjit Singh is considered to be the most popular ghazal singer and composer of all time in terms of commercial success. With a career spanning over five decades and a repertoire comprising 80 albums, the range and breadth of his work has been regarded as genre-defining. He is the only composer and singer to have composed and recorded songs written by Prime Minister – Atal Behari Vajpayee – also a critically acclaimed poet – in two albums, Nayi Disha (1999) and Samvedna (2002).
Jagjit Singh was the first Indian composer (and together with his wife Chitra Singh the first recording artist) in the history of Indian music to use digital multi-track recording for their album Beyond Time (1987). Together with sitar player Ravi Shankar and other leading figures of Indian classical music and literature, Singh had voiced his concerns over politicisation of arts and culture in India and lack of support experienced by the practitioners of India’s traditional art forms, particularly folk artists and musicians. He had lent active support to several philanthropic endeavors such as the library at St. Mary’s School, Mumbai, Bombay Hospital, CRY, Save the Children and ALMA.
His association with music goes back to his childhood. He learnt music under Pandit Chaganlal Sharma for two years in Ganganagar, and later devoted six years to learning Khayal, Thumri and Dhrupad forms of Indian Classical Music from Ustad Jamaal Khan of the Sainia Gharana school. Popularly known as “Ghazal King”, Singh gained acclaim together with his wife, singer Chitra Singh. Chitra stopped giving public performances after their only son, Vivek, died in a road accident in 1990. But Singh continued to sing, singing with equal ease in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Gujrati, Sindhi and Nepali languages. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2003.
The Vice-Chancellor of Panjab University and Kurukshetra University, Late Professor Suraj Bhan encouraged his interest in music. He arrived in Mumbai in 1965 in search of better opportunities for being a musician and singer. His early struggle in the music industry, though not too harsh by his own account, still had its share of trials and tribulations. He lived as a paying guest and his earlier assignments were singing advertisement jingles. Singh was first offered to sing in a Gujarati film, Dharati Na Chhoru produced by Suresh Amin.
Before this illness, his last major concert was held on 16 September 2011 in Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai. His last concert was held on 20 September 2011 in The Indian Public School, Dehradun. He died on 10 October 2011 at the age of 70 in Mumbai at Lilavati hospital.