Yannis Markopoulos was born in Heracleion, Crete, on 18 March 1939. Both his mother, from the town of Sfakia, and his father, from the town of Ierapetra, were descendants of old Cretan families. His father practised law and later in life served as Prefect in the districts of Lassithi, Chania, Eurytania and Preveza. At the age of eight, Markopoulos began to learn to play the violin and the clarinet in the local band of Ierapetra. The traditional Cretan music in conjunction with the symphonic music he would hear from the radio at that time as well as the music of nearby Egypt formed his earliest and most decisive musical experiences.