Born 2 December 1922 in Hora in the island of Naxos, Kambanellis appears as one of the most prominent Greek artists of the 20th century. As a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, he wrote the lyrics of the "Mauthausen Trilogy" with music by Mikis Theodorakis. He has also written a book known as Mauthausen describing his experiences from the concentration camp.
He authored at least 12 films and he directed two of them.
In addition, he was known as a verse writer and for his membership at the board of the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece (MIET – Morfotiko Idryma Ethnikis Trapezis), along with some of the most prominent Greek artists. Iakovos Kambanellis was rushed at hospital on February 4, 2011 due to complications of his long-term kidney failure.