Tilahun Gessesse, a prominent Ethiopian artist of the 20th century, gained widespread acclaim as a singer with a remarkable tenor voice. He earned the nickname “The Voice” during the 1960s, a period often referred to as the “Golden Age” of Ethiopian music. Tilahun’s contributions to the nation’s musical heritage are celebrated and enduring.
Beyond his musical talents, Tilahun was known for his philanthropy during the devastating famines of the 1970s and 1980s, earning the affection of the Ethiopian people. He received numerous accolades for his achievements, including a lifetime achievement award from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust and an honorary PhD from Addis Ababa University.
Tilahun’s journey into music began in his hometown of Waliso, where he attended Ras Gobena Elementary School. His passion for music became increasingly evident as he grew older. He initially worked with the Hager Fikir Association in Addis Ababa, now known as Hager Fikir Theatre. Subsequently, he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band, eventually becoming its lead vocalist.
However, Tilahun encountered challenges during his time with the band, notably due to the Imperial Bodyguard coup attempt in December 1960, which led to his arrest and imprisonment. He later transitioned to the National Theatre, where he continued to achieve remarkable success. During the 1960s, his tenor voice was widely regarded as the finest in Ethiopian popular music, and his popularity even brought him in front of Emperor Haile Selassie I on three occasions, where he received guidance and recognition from the Emperor.