Sandro Kavsadze was one of Georgia's greatest singers. Born in 1874 in the village of Khovle (in the Kaspi district of Western Georgia), he was first taught to sing by his father, Grigoli Kavsadze, a priest. Later, Sandro continued to study song at the seminary in the town of Gori. His teacher there, Simon Goglichidze, was a renowned singer himself, and within a few years Kavsadze had become an expert, and had been designated Goglichidze's deputy and substitute. (A certain Iosep Djugashvili, later known as "Koba" and "Stalin", also studied in the seminary in Gori, and was a contemporary of Sandro's.)
In 1893, after finishing his clerical studies, Kavsadze formed his own choir and performed concerts for charity; he also formed choirs in Tbilisi (in 1896) and Poti (in 1897). In 1911, Sandro left his group under the direction of his brother Mikheil, and moved to western Georgia. He formed several choirs there, in Satchkere, Tkibuli, Chiatura, Zestaponi, and Kutaisi, and Kavsadze also taught Georgian folk music in schools and high-schools. In all, he spent twenty years in the region of Imereti, where he made an enormous contribution to the revival of traditional music and folklore.
Almost twenty years later, in 1930, Sandro was given the (rather Soviet) title of "Artistic Figure of Merit", and the thirtieth jubilee of his work was celebrated. In 1935 he was asked to move to Georgia's capital Tbilisi, where he was commissioned to set up and prepare an Eastern Georgian Folkloric Ensemble for the "Decade of Georgian Culture", an art and folklore festival which was to be held in Moscow.
In 1937, Kavsadze and his ensemble travelled to Moscow, where they performed to great acclaim, winning an award. After the festival, a meeting was held in the Kremlin between the Politburo and all the festival's participants; this meeting gave rise to the following anecdote:
The story has it that the festival's participants – singers, dancers, artistic directors, etc. – were gathered in the Kremlin's Georgievsk Hall, where they were nervously awaiting Stalin's arrival. At last, the Man Himself entered the room – A "hurrah!" resounded, but Stalin lifted up his hand to bid those gathered be silent. He looked around the room at length, clearly searching for someone. Everyone became anxious: Whom was he looking for?? What should they do?! At last, Stalin asked in a low voice "if Sandro was there." Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and the crowd parted to form a passage: at one end, Stalin; at the other, Sandro. It was of course protocol that the person meeting Stalin should walk up to him, but Sandro didn't move – a clear slight to the Great Man. They stared at each other for a few seconds, surrounded by the stunned crowd. Stalin then took the first step, followed by Sandro, and they met in the middle of the room, and embraced each other. "You have not changed," said Stalin, giving Sandro a pat on the back. Sandro remained silent, and patted Stalin on the back. "Indeed, you have not changed," repeated Stalin, patting Sandro on the back again. They conversed in low voices, Stalin asking Sandro if there was anything He could do for him? "Give me your pipe," said Sandro – The pipe has been a Kavsadze family heirloom ever since.
After Moscow, Sandro and his ensemble were bidden to travel onwards to Leningrad (formerly St. Petersburg, and now St. Petersburg again). However, shortly after the festival, Sandro (by then 63 years old) fell ill, and was hospitalized in the Kremlin. Lying in the hospital, Sandro received a letter. On the envelope was written "To Comrade Alexandre Kavsadze, from Stalin." The letter read: "Greetings to Sandro! ["sandros gaumardjos!" in Georgian] I happened to learn from Egnatashvili that you are in the Kremlin hospital. This is bad news, but the doctors tell me that you will get better soon. If you need anything, please let me know, for I am ready to help you in any manner. May you live for a thousand years! Your Soso, 1937."
Too ill to continue touring, Sandro remained in Moscow, and the Ensemble continued under the direction of his son, Davit Kavsadze (1907-1952). Having arrived in Leningrad, they repeated their success, and for his achievements Sandro was awarded an Order and was named "Honoured Artist of the Georgian [Soviet Socialist] Republic".
Sandro returned to Tbilisi shortly afterwards, where he died on 12 June 1939. He was buried in the city's Vake cemetery, in Georgia's Pantheon.