Stelios Kazantzidis is widely considered the most prolific Greek singer of all time. In his musical career, he recorded more than 1,500 songs. He was recognized as the voice of the working class, since many of his songs talked about their problems and complaints.
Kazantzidis was born in Nea Ionia, Athens, on August 29, 1931. He was born in a family of Pontic roots. His father's death forced him into employment to support his family by working all manner of jobs, including baggage carrier, seller of roasted chestnuts, builder, and laborer. Music had surrounded him since his birth and he started to play guitar in his teenage years, when a factory owner gave him one.
He made his first appearance as a singer in a club at Kifissia in 1950. Two years later in 1952 he released his first album, with Apostolos Kaldara's song "Gia Mpanio Pas," which had moderate sales and was considered a failure. But his next song, "Oi Valitses," composed by Giannis Papaioannou, became the first of many hits and he emerged as a first-class singer. He started to sing in the biggest nightclubs of Athens, like Theios, Mpertzeletos, and Rosiniol. During this period he met, engaged, and worked with Kaiti Gray until 1957. Their biggest hit together was Xioti's "Apopse Fila Me."
The late '50s to mid-'60s were the most creative years for Kazantzidis. He met and started to work with Marinella in Thesalloniki and later engaged her. He worked and made many hits with the best Greek songwriters of the time, like Vasilis Tsitsanis, Giannis Papaioannou, Manolis Xiotis, Apostolos Kaldaras, Kostas Virvos, Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hadjidakis, Xristos Leontis, Stauros Xarhakos, Manos Loizos, and Giannis Markopoulos. He appeared in the biggest nightclubs and also participated in many movies for the emerging Greek cinema. Besides his work as a singer, he also composed his own songs that became big hits, like "Ziguala" and "Mantuvala." In 1961 he participated in the musical plays of Theodorakis and Hadjidakis, and in January 1964, Kazantzidis left Columbia Records for Odeon-Parlophone. The same year he married Marinella and they recorded together Kataxnia, penned by Xristos Leontis and Kostas Virvos.
In 1965 Kazantzidis, while in the peak of his career, decided to stop appearing in nightclubs. He didn't sing in public again for the rest of his life. For the next ten years, he only released studio albums. The next year he divorced Marinella, and they recorded their last duets ("Mh Mou Lete Gia Authn," "Apopse Se Exo Stin Agalia Mou," "H Kardia Ths Manas") for Philips the following year. In 1968 Kazantzidis recorded "Nyxterides Ki' Araxnes," written by newcomer Xristos Nikolopoulos; the song became an immediate success. In 1973 he collaborated with songwriter Akis Panou and released an album with six songs, including one of his biggest hits, "H Awh Mou Olh," and in 1974 he recorded "Stin Anatoli," composed by Theodorakis. The next year he recorded another one of his biggest hits, "Yparxo," penned by Pythagoras.
Suddenly Kazantzidis rocked the Greek music industry again, when he announced his decision to stop recording. He accused his label of "colonial-like" contracts and took a leave from recording. In 1987 he recorded again for the first time after 12 years. Sto Dromo Tis Epistrofis sold 200,000 copies and became a commercial success. He continued to release records occasionally for the rest of his life. Kazantidis, besides his work on folk music, also recorded four records with Pontic alongside Xrysanthos, the greatest Pontic signer, songwriter, and lyrist.
Kazantidis died on September 14, 2001, after a long battle with cancer, and his death spread grief and sorrow in Greece and especially among Greek migrants across the world, with whom he had created a special bond through the years. His last wife, Vaso, and Marinella were at his side until his last hours.