After the passing away of Ramanuja, difference arose in nature and interpretation of prapatti among his followers. As a result there was split and one group congregated around Manavala Maamuni ( the other group followed Vedanta Desikan's principles). Manavaala Maamuni was responsible for ensuring that the consistent system of temple procedures, initiated by Ramanuja, spread and was maintained. Manavala Maamuni had 8 followers called ashtadigajas. One such ashtadigajas was called P.B Annan (expands as Sri Prathivadhi Bhayangaram Annangaracharyar ). Manavala Maamuni requested P.B Annan Swamy to compose a song for Thiru Vengadam (Thirumala). This song was meant to precede the Thirupalli ezhuchi, composed by Thondaraipodi Azhwar, sung every morning for Lord Vekateswara of Thirumalai.
And so the song - Suprabhatham - was composed by P.B Annan. It draws from various puranas and Sri Suktham. It serves to awaken Sri and Venkteswara. Many commentators have said that Suprabhatam has all aspects for being called a wellrounded puja. It has four aspects (1) Venkatesa Suprabhatam, which is the actual awaking of Sree and Vishnu, (2) Stotram, which is essentially a Praise, (3) A Prapatti through Sree and (4) A Mangalam, which serves as a conclusion (Incidentally the later part of the song that begins with 'kamala ...' is said to be composed in Madyamavathi raagam - can anybody confirm?). The mangalasaasanam was composed by Manavala Maamuni himself. Also interesting is that both 'Venkatesa' and 'Balaji', names which are used quite frequently nowadays are not part of the Vishnu Sahasranamam (1000 names of Vishnu). I remember reading an explanation for this in some forwarded mail, which essentially said that Venkatesa avataram, is a more recent kali yuga avatar, whereas Mahabharatha (where the Sahasranamam appears) belongs to a earlier Dwapara Yugam. Venkatesa is also considered by some to be a Sanskrit translation of Azhwar's "Thiru Vengadam". Anyway these are all just theories from various sources.
Moving on - In many vaishnavite temples, for example Thirupathi, this is how the morning begins. A cowherd wakes up the chief priest, the priest holds the key to the door of the temple and he accompanies the cowherd to the temple (correct me if I am wrong - some temples like Uppuliappan temple has a cow accompanying them also). Both the cowherd and the priest, then request permission from the Dwara Balakar's (Jai & Vijay) standing as guard in front of the temple, to enter the premises. After this, as part of the daily rituals in Thirupathi, a descendant of Talapak Annamacharya sings a song. Then the recitation of Suprabhatham begins. This is followed by the Thirupalli Ezhuchi of Thondaraipodi Azhwar, which includes or is followed by the Sarrumurai. (All vaishnavite temples give Suprabhatham recitation a vacation between Dec 15 and Jan 15. Andal's Thirupaavai is sung instead)
Ofcourse for most people M.S Subbulakshmi's name is synonymous with Suprabhatham. Folks at Madras always romanticise about the triple cannon of The Hindu Newspaper, filter coffee and M.S rendition of Suprabhatham. However, for me, interest in both 'The Hindu' and 'M.S Subbulakshmi' has waned over time. The romance and the myth of it is gone. The coffee has also become sporadical. 3 years ago, I happened to buy a CD from TTD Branch Office at Venkatnarayana Rd, Madras. It was a recitation of Suprabhatham by Ananthasayanam & Party. Although, the English commentary preceding the suprabhatham, leaves a lot to be desired, the sequence of the cowherd, dwara balakar, annamacharya is explained and simulated very well. Also following the Suprabhatham is an 'Aashirwadam Mathra' and a recitation that just lists out all the raagas in carnautic music. I found the latter very intriguing. Since I do not have the CD cover with me, I do not know the name of the song. Also on a related note, M.S Subbulakshmi is also know for her recitation of Sahasranamam (with a combintaion of Bhaja Govindam and a introduction by Rajaji). In continuation of moving away-from-MS extravaganza, I found Malolam Kannan's rendition of Sahasranamam very good. No comparisons to M.S intended. He says it slowly enough for people to understand whats going on. His pronuciation is excellent and it can double up as a daily CD or a learner's sing-along. I found this CD by chance in Sriperambadur but I guess it is available everywhere. I recommend trying both these CDs