James Pappoutsakis, or “Jimmy” as he liked to be known, was born in 1911 of Greek parents in Cairo, Egypt, and came to Boston soon after birth. He lived in Boston with his parents and brother, and in the late 1920's attended Boston Latin High School. His first flute teacher was Harry Moscowitz, a New England Conservatory pupil of Georges Laurent. Laurent, who was himself a 1905 graduate of the Paris Conservatory and pupil of Paul Taffanel, was principal flute of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) from 1925 to 1952. At the recommendation of Moscowitz, Pappoutsakis entered the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) after high school, where he also became a pupil of Laurent.
To sustain a living in the years following his graduation from NEC, Jimmy freelanced, taught privately and played in small opera companies, theater pit orchestras, and radio concerts in Boston and the surrounding areas. At a concert in the Boston Public Library in 1937, then BSO harpist Bernard Zighera attended a recital of one of his finest pupils, Miss Louise Came. Among other repertoire, this particular harp recital featured Louise performing a work for flute and harp with Jimmy as flutist. Zighera remembered the concert a few weeks later, when BSO conductor Serge Koussevitsky remarked at a meeting at Symphony Hall that he would soon be holding auditions for the position of assistant principal flute. Zighera spoke up and Jimmy was called to ask if he would audition. The forthcoming audition went well, with several standard excerpts, at which time Koussevitsky called for the 1st flute part of "Daphnis and Chloe" from the library. Jimmy surprised all with a quick offer to play it there on the spot from memory. The conductor was delighted and the position was promptly offered to Pappoutsakis. Incidentally, Miss Came eventually entered the BSO and the Boston Pops Orchestra (Pops) as harpist, and a few years later became Mrs. James Pappoutsakis. They can be heard together on one of the earliest Pops recordings featuring flute and harp in a performance of the Menuette from "L' Arlesienne Suite" of Georges Bizet.
Jimmy remained in a distinguished career in the BSO and Pops as player and occasional soloist for the next forty years. For an astonishing four decades, he taught hundreds of pupils from all the major music schools in Boston including New England Conservatory of Music, Boston University School of Fine Arts (BU), The Boston Conservatory, and the Longy School of Music. He also taught students from Wellesley College, Harvard, Radcliffe and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). A staggering eighteen of these pupils went on to win Fulbright Scholarships in Europe, and still more took their places in symphony orchestras and teaching positions at various colleges and high schools across America. Jimmy left his position in the BSO about a year before his death, yet continued to teach at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, up to a month before passing away from complications of emphysema in 1979.