About the founder

Sophocles Papas

Photography by David Papas (www.papas.com),
son of Sophocles Papas

Sophocles Papas, founder of the Columbia Music Company, was born in 1893 or -94 in Sopiki, Greece, then a part of Albania. He was exposed to classical music at an early age by his father, who was a church chanter, a voice teacher, and a casual player of the violin.

When Papas was a young teenager, he went to live with an uncle in Cairo. He attended school and studied piano, and it was then that he began to study both the mandolin and the guitar.

He returned to Greece in 1912, where he fought as an Albanian guerrilla against the Turks in the Balkan Wars. Later he joined the Greek army and fought in the Graeco-Turkish wars.

In 1913 or -14, he moved to the United States, intending to study agriculture. But that plan was diverted by the outbreak of WWI, during which he fought for the United States.

In 1920, after the war had ended, Papas moved to Washington, D.C., and began teaching the ukulele, the banjo, the mandolin, the Hawaiian guitar, and the classical guitar. He also gave solo performances and was the leader of an orchestra of fretted instruments.

During this period, the dearth of published guitar music led Papas to found the Columbia Music Company. The earliest publications were produced as material for his many students, and over the years the catalog grew to include a range of compositions, studies and exercises, and arrangements.

In 1925 Papas opened his own studio in Washington, D.C., and for the next 50 years he taught a full slate of students. Some of his better-known students included Charlie Byrd, Jim Skinger, Aaron Shearer, Dorothy de Goede, Clare Calahan, Sharon Isbn, John Marlow, Alvino Rey, and jazz guitarist Bill Harris. Papas was a lifelong friend of Andrés Segovia, whom he met at Segovia's 1928 debut performance in North America.

Sophocles Papas taught guitar in Washington, D.C., for nearly 60 years and made the city a center of classical guitar activity in the United States. He stopped teaching only in about 1975, when he was in his early eighties. Right up until his death on February 26, 1986, he fostered dreams of opening a new guitar studio.

For information about a biography of Sophocles Papas, written by his daughter, Elisabeth Papas Smith, see Sophocles Papas: The Guitar, His Life.

The company is currently operated by his granddaughter, Thea E. Smith.

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