Published Apr 21, 2009Tilahun Gessesse, possibly the most popular singer of Ethiopia's "Golden Age Of Music," has died. Though suffering from diabetes for many years, it's believed he died of a heart-attack on April 19. He was 68.
Gessesse first achieved prominence in the late '50s with the Imperial Bodyguard Band, one of several long running acts associated with Ethiopia's various security forces. Singing mostly in Amharic, Gessesse's powerful tenor was considered the epitome of modern Ethiopian pop vocals during the '60s. His output during this period, like many others, was heavily influenced by Addis Ababa's cosmopolitan scene, and he dabbled heavily in American soul styles. His popularity was such that he performed for Emperor Haile Selassie three times.
Despite changing styles, Gessesse remained extremely popular for more than five decades and utilized his fame for humanitarian work. With the increased Ethiopian presence in North America and Europe starting in the 1980s, he became better known outside his homeland. Two anthologies of his work were produced this decade: one by Washington, DC-based EthioSound and the other being volume 17 in the popular Ethiopiques series issued by Buda Musique.
In recent years, he received numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate from Addis Ababa University, and was the subject of several fundraisers to support him financially through his illness.
Last weekend, just seven hours after returning from New York, the singer complained of chest pains and died en route to hospital.