The King of Ethiopian Music, Tilahun Gesesse dies at the age of 69

April 20th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

The renowned and veteran Ethiopian vocalist, Tilahun Gessesse, passed away on April 19, 2009. (more…)

The renowned and veteran Ethiopian vocalist, Tilahun Gessesse, passed away on April 19, 2009.

Tilahun Gessesse (Amharic: ጥላሁን ገሠሠ) (also spelled Telahun Gesesse or Tlahoun Gèssèssè) is an Ethiopian singer. He was born on September 29, 1940, in Addis Ababa and died on April 19, 2009.

Gessesse was born to Woizero Gete Gurmu, and Ato Gessesse Negusse. When he was fourteen years old, he was taken by his grandfather to Waliso where he began attending Ras Gobena Elementary School.

As time went by, his interest in music became increasingly clear, although his grandfather urged him to concentrate on his academic studies. The Ras Gobena School Principal Mr. Shedad (who was from Sudan), encouraged Gessesse’s interest in music and urged him to go to Sudan to pursue his music career. Although Gessesse did not go to Sudan, he took Mr. Shedad’s advice very seriously. When Woizro Negatwa Kelkai, Ato Eyoel Yohanes and others artists from the Hager Fikir Theatre came to his school to perform, Gessesse took the opportunity to discuss his interest in music with Ato Eyoel. He was told to go to Addis Ababa if he wanted to pursue a career in the field.

Gessesse left school to go to Addis Ababa, a journey he began on foot without his grandfather’s consent. When his grandfather realized that Tilahun was no longer in Woliso, he informed Gessesse’s great-aunt in Tulu Bolo. After Gessesse traveled fifteen kilometers on foot, he was caught in Tulu Bolo and stayed overnight with his great-aunt Woizero Temene Bantu. The next day, he was forced to return back to his grandfather in Woliso. Since his interest in music lay deep in his heart, Gessesse chose not to stay at his grandfather’s house in Woliso. After staying only one night at his grandfather’s house, he again began his journey to Addis Ababa, this time hiding himself in the back of a loaded truck.

In Addis Ababa, Gessesse was first hired by the Hager Fikir Association, which is now known as Hager Fikir Theater. After a few years at the Hager Fikir Theater, he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band where he became a leading star singer. During his time with the band, Gessesse ran afoul of the government after the attempted coup d’état of December 1960 by the Imperial Bodyguard. He was arrested and put in prison for a time.

Gessesse moved to the National Theater where his success continued. He was so famous that he appeared three times in front of Emperor Haile Selassie I. During a visit, the Emperor advised him not to abuse his talent.

The majority of Gessesse’s recordings are in Amharic, though he has recorded a number of songs in Oromo.

He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Addis Ababa University, in appreciation of his contribution to Ethiopian music. He has also received an award for his lifetime achievements from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.


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