Born in New Delhi on 30th Nov 1936( There is a confusion on her date of birth in one video 30th Jan is mentioned), she was discovered as a child artiste by Master Ghulam Haider (a prominent music director of the 1940s). Her first break came with Mil gaye nain,composed by Anil Biswas, for the film Arzoo. Salaam-e-Hasrat Qubool Karlo and Kashti ka Khamosh Safar hai a duet with Kishore Kumar is the other songs she is often remembered for.
Upon the recommendation of music composers Husnlal-Bhagatram, she took classical singing lessons from Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan and began singing playback with the film Arzoo (1950).
She also acted in some Bollywood films and as a playback singer, worked in popular Bollywood movies in the 1950s and 1960s, like Arzoo, Dhool Ka Phool, Ab Dilli Door Nahin, Girl Friend, Barsat Ki Raat, Didi, Kala Pani, Prem Rog and Dekh Kabira Roya.
There is another interesting little-known aspect of her life. She is one of the rare female singers to have sung a self-composed song. Sudha has not only given the music for Tum mujhe bhool bhee jao from film Didi, but also sung it with Mukesh.
She sang ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ first with Geeta Dutt composed by Khayyam for a Chetan Anand film. The film was never made but it was eventually reused for the Yash Chopra film.
The most saddening part of her career was that by singing more of children songs and motherly numbers in movies like Ab Dilli Door Nahin, Andher Nagri Chaupat Raja, Jeevan Saathi and Masoom, Sudha was labelled as a "typed singer". But determined Sudha proved everybody wrong. Her bhajan in Kala Pani 'Na Main Dhan Chahun..' became immensely popular. She sang the famous qawwali 'Ishq Ishq..' in the film Barsat Ki Raat. This song was recorded for a period of twenty-nine continuous hours. She was awarded the Kala Bhushan award by Gyani Zail Singh, the then president of India. She was awarded the Padma Shri by Government of India in 2013
She has sung 264 songs in 155 films.She was last heard in Raj Kapoor's Prem Rog (1982) in the song "Yeh Pyar tha ya kuch aur tha". Apart from Hindi songs, Sudha sang many popular Marathi songs (Bhavgeet) with Arun Date.
The poet-lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi was said to be infatuated with Sudha Malhotra, 15 years his junior, when they first began working on Bhai Behen (1959). Malhotra’s dulcet voice brought alive many of Ludhianvi’s songs in film, and ‘Salaam-E-Hasrat Qubool Kar Lo’ was no exception. Composed by Roshan in the raga Yaman, the song was picturised on actresses Shubha Khote and Azra in the Muslim social, Babar (1960).