The voice of Stelios Kazantzidis — who died on September 14, 2001 — was the voice that contained all the pain and desires of post-war, poverty-stricken Greeks, many of whom had to migrate to make a living abroad.
Kazantzidis has been one of the very few Greek singers who undoubtedly deserve the title of the “people’s singer”. He was loved fanatically, as his voice had a rough intimacy making every listener feel like he was singing just for them alone.
The unique texture of his voice managed to encompass a great range of feelings, expressing everyone, from the lovelorn man to the poor worker. Greeks could identify with him because he was singing about their hopes, their fears, their struggle to survive. Whole generations found comfort in his voice that was so good that every word he sang sounded true.
He was born on August 29, 1931 in Nea Ionia, an Athens neighborhood where many refugees from Asia Minor lived, as was his mother. Early in childhood, he listened to the songs the refugees brought with them and from those songs he learned the singing techniques, the breaths, the crying in the voice.
Growing up, he worked at a factory in New Ionia. One day, his boss called him and told him that he had an amazing voice and gave him a guitar as a present. When not working, the young man was sitting at home for hours trying to learn to play songs on the guitar. One day, a passer-by heard him sing and suggested that he sing in his tavern. And that is how the whole story began.
His first “professional” performance was in a tavern in Kifissia in 1950. Two years later he made his first recording in the Columbia Records studio, with the song by Apostolos Kaldaras “Yia Banio Pas”. It was a flop. But the second single he recorded, “Oi Valitses” by Giannis Papaioannou, became a great success.
After that, the hits kept coming and he started appearing in popular night clubs of the time. Beyond that, he began a series of successes and a continuous rise, with appearances in popular folk centers of the time. Then he met singer Kaiti Gray and they collaborated. The two got engaged shortly and in 1957 they recorded together the Manolis Chiotis song “Apopse Fila Me”. It was a huge success, but the couple split up shortly afterwards.
The next eight years (1957-1965) were Kazantzidis’ most creative and productive. His acquaintance with Marinella in Thessaloniki evolved into a brilliant collaboration. Together they had great successes with songs by leading composers (Vassilis Tsitsanis, Giannis Papaioannou, Manolis Chiotis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Kostas Virvos, Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Stavros Xarhakos, etc) and performed in the biggest night clubs.
In May 1966 Stelios and Marinella decided to get married. Their marriage did not last long but they remained friends. After many years, Kazantzidis met Vasso, the woman that Stelios refered to as “my treasure”. She took his name and treasures it to this day.
In 1965, while at the height of his career, Kazantzidis decided to stop singing in nightclubs. From then on his only contact with his adoring fans was through his records. However, due to legal problems with Minos, his record company, he stopped recording for 12 years.
In 1987, he returned to the recording studio and collaborated with top composers of the time, such as Takis Soukos, Thanassis Polykandriotis, Thodoris Kambouridis, Antonis Vardis and others. His swan song was the album Erhontai chronia dyskola in 2000.
Kazantzidis passed away on September 14, 2001, at the age of 70, after a long battle with cancer.