Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

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Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou (Gəʿəz ፅጌ ማርያም ገብሩ; born Yewubdar Gebru, 12 December 1923 – 26 March 2023) was an Ethiopian nun known for her piano playing and compositions.[1]


Guèbrou was born as Yewubdar Gebru in Addis Ababa, on 12 December 1923, to a wealthy Amhara family. At the age of six she was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland, where she studied violin. In 1933 she returned to Ethiopia, where she was a civil servant and singer to Haile Selassie.[2][3] During the Second Italo-Ethiopian War she and her family were prisoners of war and were sent by the Italians to the prison camp on the Italian island of Asinara and later to Mercogliano, near Naples. After the war Guèbrou studied under the Polish-Jewish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz in Cairo. Kontorowicz and Guèbrou returned to Ethiopia where Kontorowicz was appointed musical director of the band of the Imperial Body Guard.[4] Guèbrou was employed as an administrative assistant.[5] Her first record was released in 1967.

The Emahoy Tsege Mariam Music Foundation has been set up to help children in need both in Africa and in the Washington, D.C. metro area to study music. In April 2017 Guèbrou was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary, introduced by Kate Molleson, entitled The Honky Tonk Nun.[6] Guèbrou died on 26 March 2023 in Jerusalem, at the age of 99.[7][8]


Her music has been described as melodic blues piano with rhythmically complex phrasing.[9] For three decades she lived a reclusive life with only rare performances including one at the Jewish Community Center in Washington, D.C. on 12 July 2008.[10] Three tribute concerts were held in Jerusalem in 2013 to mark her 90th birthday and a compilation of her musical scores was released.

A compilation of Guèbrou's work was issued on the Éthiopiques record label. The album, entitled Éthiopiques Volume 21: Ethiopia Song, was released in 2006. Guèbrou also appeared on the 2012 album The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia, and the 2011 album The Rough Guide to African Lullabies. During her life, Guèbrou composed over 150 songs for piano, organ, opera, and chamber ensembles.[11]

In popular media[edit]

In 2019, an ad campaign entitled 'Coming Home' for Amazon’s Echo Auto and Echo Smart Speaker created by advertising agency Wongdoody featured a song by Guebrou titled 'Homesickness'. Her music was featured in the soundtrack of the 2020 documentary Time.[12] Two of her compositions were also featured in the 2021 Netflix movie Passing: 'The Homeless Wanderer' (used in the official trailer) and 'The Last Tears of a Deceased'.[13][14]


  1. ^ The Story of the Wind, Ethan Iversons jazz music reviews
  2. ^ Ambo, Alemayehu (2004). In the Lands of Black Lions and White Bears: My Life in Ethiopia and Canada. AuthorHouse. p. 130. ISBN 9781418433796.
  3. ^ Clemency Burton-Hill (2017). Year of Wonder - Classical Music for Every Day. Headline. p. 22. ISBN 9781472254412.
  4. ^ Kontorowicz Aleksander. Virtuelles Schtetl.
  5. ^ "Biography". Emahoy Tsege Mariam Music Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 19 January 2014.
  6. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - The Honky Tonk Nun". BBC.
  7. ^ Hussey, Allison (27 March 2023). "Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Ethiopian pianist and nun, dies at 99". Pitchfork. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  8. ^ "World-renowned classical pianist and composer Emahoy Tsege Mariam dies at 99". Welcome to Fana Broadcasting Corporate S.C. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  9. ^ "Ethiopiques, Vol. 21: Ethiopia Song - Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  10. ^ Magazine, Tadias. "Emahoy Sheet Music Project Launched at Tadias Magazine". Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  11. ^ "Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, Ethiopian nun and pianist, dies at 99". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2023.
  12. ^ Westfall, Alex (7 October 2020). "How the Cult Classic Recordings of a 96-Year-Old Nun Became the Soundtrack to Garrett Bradley's New Documentary Time". Pitchfork.
  13. ^ McFarland, Melanie (11 November 2021). "Thanks to its stars, "Passing" is a masterpiece of subtle expression, rendered in black and white". Salon. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  14. ^ All 10 songs from the Passing (2021) Soundtrack, retrieved 23 November 2021

External links[edit]