Maria Farandouri was born in Athens ïn November 28th, 1947, a harsh period, when Greece, like much of Europe, was recovering from the devastation of World War II and the German Occupation. However, it was also a period of readjustment and awakening, sentiments expressed by Aggelos Sikelianos in his poem March of the Spirit, a work of exaltation and heroic vision that would be sung by Maria Farandouri 23 years later in a setting by Mikis Theodorakis.
Maria’s childhood was full of hardships. Her parents were both islanders, her father from Kefalonia, and her mother from Kythira. By the time she was born they were living in the working-class suburb of Nea Ionia, an area that had been settled by refugees from Asia Minor in the 1920’s. One of the many children struck by the poliomyelitis epidemic that swept the world, she was separated, at two years old, from her parents and quarantined with other affected children in a sanatorium. This painful experience and the effects of the disease made her childhood years difficult.
Adolescence saw the beginning of Maria’s creative experience; through her participation in the choir of The Society of Greek Music, she understood that singing would become not only a path to follow but a way of life. The Society’s objective was to promote progressive music based on Greek culture and tradition and it was the spawning ground for many young artists who aspired to revive Greek music including Yiannis Markopoulos, Manos Loizos, Dionyssis Savvopoulos, Christos Leontis, Zakis and Panayiotis Kounadis. In this inspirational environment, Maria took her first steps in music and because of her rich contralto voice, soon left the choir to become a soloist.
It was while she was singing with the Society choir, in 1963 that Mikis Theodorakis first heard Maria singing a song of his own entitled Grief. The composer was deeply impressed by the young singer and at the end of the concert he met her backstage: «Do you know that you were born to sing my songs?» he told her. «I know» was the immediate response of the sixteen-year old singer.
In the summer of the same year, after school had broken up for the summer vacation, Maria became a member of Theodorakis’s ensemble. Together with Grigoris Bithikotsis, Dora Yiannakopoulou and Soula Birbili, Maria encountered the magic of concert performance for the first time. Soon, her voice was heard at all important political and social events.
Theodorakis’s new work The Hostage was performed at every peace demonstration, and with her militant young voice, Maria made the song The Laughing Boy known throughout Greece, and eventually, the world.
During the same period, two of the most famous actors of the Greek theater (Katina Paxinou and Alexis Minotis) were preparing a performance of Euripides’ Phoenician Women at Epidaurus for which Theodorakis had composed the music. Observing the rehearsals was an education in vocal practice and musical expression for the young Farandouri.