Amaradeva was born the youngest of six children to carpenter Wannakuwatta Waduge Don Ginoris Perera and Balapuwaduge Maggie Weslina Mendis at Janapriya Mawatha in Koralawella, Moratuwa. Perera was a Buddhist while Mendis was a Methodist bringing both Christian and Buddhist values to the family.
Amardeva was introduced to music at a young age by his father who crafted and played violins. Amaradeva would often strum the violin whle his mother sang hymns. Another family influence was Amaradeva’s elder brother who taught Indian classical music to him. Amaradeva was presented with his own instrument on his seventh birthday.
He obtained his early education under Ven. Malalankara Nayaka of the Koralawella temple. With the development of his musical talent, Amaradeva was asked to recite poems and prayers at the temple; he was subsequently picked to lead the village choir.
Amaradeva continued his studies at Sri Saddharmodaya Buddhist Mixed School. While attending the school, he won a poetry contest held at the Moratuwa Vidyalaya; Amaradeva also led the school choir to a triumpant showing at a contest held by the Colombo Arts Society. His poetry win prompted school teachers to get him a showcase to recite poetry on Radio Ceylon. In 1945 Amaradeva won a gold medal at a music and violin contest held by Jana Kala Mandalaya.
Amaradeva entered Sri Sumangala Vidyalaya, Panadura after completing his primary education with a scholarship for English. At the school, he formed a friendship with the Principal Danister Thomas. Thomas helped Amaradeva get into Kalutara Vidyalaya and subsequently Siddharta Vidyalaya Balapitiya.
By chance filming of the film Ashokamala commenced nearby. Gerard J. Pieris of Moratuwa introduced Amaradeva to Mohamed Ghouse Master who was handling the music for the film and Ghouse recognizing Amaradeva’s skill enlisted him as the top violinist in his orchestra.
Amardeva left his studies and accompanied Ghouse to India to work on the film. He would play a triple role of singing, dancing and acting on the film with the song “Ayi Yameku Kale Ale.”
He found steady work as an artist on Radio Ceylon, where his unique vision and talent could be exhibited to an audience wider than he had ever before known – earning him a position at the Bhathkande Institute of Music in Lucknow, India. After extensive training, Albert returned to Sri Lanka as Pandit Wannakuwattawaduge Don Amaradeva.The name Amaradeva which translates as Immortal god was given to him by Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra (Sri Lanka’s foremost playwright and a close associate).
During this time, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) had only begun emerging as an independent nation, and the question of what Sri Lankan music was, was slowly being addressed with equal vigour by intellectuals, artists and the general public. In response to the spirit of these times, Amaradeva began interweaving indigenous folk music with the Indian ragas he had studied in Lucknow, thereby giving expression to a more sophisticated cadence.
His other innovations include his experimentation with Western harmonies and counterharmonies, as well as with South Indian and Tamil musical forms. His opus, however, remains the work he did with Sri Lanka’s celebrated lyricist Mahagama Sekera, in exploring the contours of fusing classical Sinhala poetry with his unique musical intonation. In time, Amaradeva’s music came to reflect an entire philosophy, reflective of the spirit of a nation.
He has composed music for ballet(Karadiya, Nala Damayanthi, etc), film(Ran Muthu Duwa, Gam Peraliya, Ransalu, Delovak Athara, Gatavarayo, Rena Girav, Thunman Handiya, etc), theatre(Wessantara, etc), radio and television, and has sung over one thousand songs.
Amaradeva, and wife Wimala, have one son (Ranjana Amaradeva), and two daughters (Subhani Amaradeva, herself a talented vocalist, and Priyanvada Amaradeva).