From Athenian Revues to World War II Songs
Sophia Vembo (1910-1978) was born in Gallipolis, a town in Thrace in northern Greece. Her real name was Efi Bembo. After 1922, her family settled in Volos where Sophia finished school. She started singing first in Thessaloniki. In 1933 she made her debut in Athens at the Kentrikon Theatre, where she sang “Beautiful Gypsy” as part of the Athenian Revue “Parrot”. She had a peculiar control to her voice to which audiences of the time were unaccustomed. The song became a large success. A year later she made her first record and signed a contract with Columbia with which she worked with until the end of her life.
Vembo soon became a star singer and actress in the Greek music and theatrical scene and recorded several popular records. She also starred in the Greek movie “Refugee Girl” in 1937. She worked in Athenian theatres such as Ideal, Acropol, and Alhambra and in the Grand Trianon Cabaret of Alexandria, Egypt.
When World War II broke out Vembo was at the peak of her career. Greece joined the war on the side of the Allies in October 1940 and the Greek army successfully repelled the Italian attack on the country’s northern borders. It was then that Vembo captured the mood of the Greek nation with her songs and became the “Singer of Victory”. The legendary “Children of Greece”, written by Traiforos, was sung by everyone during the Greco-Italian war of 1940-1 and beyond.
Vembo’s songs praised the bravery of Greek soldiers and mocked Mussolini and the Italian aggressors raising the morale of soldiers and civilians alike. When the Germans occupied Greece, Vembo was forbidden to sing patriotic songs and eventually left Greece and settled in Beirut where she remained until the end of the war. She continued singing for the Greek and allied troops in the Middle East.
Vembo returned after the end of World War II to Greece; a country already in the grips of a civil war. This was no time for love songs and light hearted revues. Vembo starred in a couple of political revues and sang for the national army which was involved in a bitter fratricidal struggle and toured Greece as a special guest of the General Army Headquarters. She also travelled to America and Egypt.
The singer continued to perform in the 1950s in various venues but in the 1960s her performances were rarer until she stopped altogether by the early 1970s. In 1957, she married composer M. Traiforos after a lengthy romance. In November 1973, during the night of the student protests against the dictators that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, Vembo hid several young men and women fleeing from the police in her home.
She died on March 11, 1978.