A Brief History of the Rahbani Music Family

The Rahbani name is known extensively throughout the Middle East and is one that is close to the hearts of the Lebanese people.

May 6, 2024By Greg Beyer, Assistant Editor; African History

rahbani music family history


The Rahbani name is known across the entire Middle East and beyond.  For over 70 years, the family has been producing music and gaining fame in their native Lebanon in the 1950s before becoming household names in many neighboring countries.


Today, three generations of Rahbanis have become famous musicians, defining and shaping the cultural heritage of Lebanon and bringing their music to the world.


Fairuz, Assi, & Mansour

assi rahbani 1
Assi Rahbani. Source: mubi


The story of the Rahbani family begins in the late 1940s with two brothers named Assi and Mansour. They were both musically inclined and had received an upbringing that included a fair amount of choral and classical training. Their start in the music industry began with their jobs as paperboys in a local radio station in Beirut, where they were responsible for arranging music sheets and editing lyrics.


The station served as a platform for the Rahbani brothers to begin writing their own music. They put together a piece of music that impressed the radio station supervisor, Halim El Roumi, and he allowed them to perform their piece on live air. He noted that the two brothers were perfectionists and had a lot of potential as musicians.

Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter


In 1951, an up-and-coming singer named Nouhad Haddad (later known as Fairuz) came to the attention of Halim El Roumi, and he suggested the two brothers write a song for her. Thus began a lifelong collaboration between the three musicians.


fairouz and assi
Fairuz and Assi Rahbani. Source: Al Majalla


Over 50 songs were released by the trio over the next three years. Assi, Mansour, and Fairuz skyrocketed to fame in the Lebanese music scene. They broke from their employment at the radio station and were able to support their group on their own.


Fairuz, the eldest of four children born into a Christian Arab household, had aspirations of becoming a singer. Her talent was noticed by a musician when she was a teenager, and she enrolled in a music conservatory in Beirut, where she honed her talent.


In 1953, Assi proposed to Fairuz, and the two were married the following year.


In 1957, the trio performed for the first time at the Baalbeck International Festival, which had been held since 1955. This event brought much international attention, and the Rahbanis began their rise to fame on an international level.


Mansour Rahbani. Source: mubi


Their music was revolutionary in that it took traditional Arabic and Orthodox Christian themes and evolved them using modern orchestration and instruments. For audiences in the Middle East, the music represented an updated version of cultural heritage, while for audiences abroad, the music was completely new, forming a genre that had not been experienced before.


With their music being played on radio and television in the 1960s, Fairuz and the Rahbani Bros began writing musicals and plays, as well as thematic and patriotic music designed to appeal specifically to the Lebanese people. One of their musicals was made into a movie, Biyya’el Khawatem (Rings Merchant), in 1973.


The 1970s brought widespread international fame to the Rahbanis, and as a result, sales of their albums surpassed the 30 million mark. In 1971, the trio toured the United States, where they had their first experience with the international scene. Despite worries that they would not be able to draw a significant crowd, their popularity was almost instant. On June 6, 1971, the trio performed at a sold-out Carnegie Hall.


fairuz and ziad
Fairuz with Ziad Rahbani. Source: We Want Sounds via The Brooklyn Rail


The following year, disaster struck as Assi suffered a brain hemorrhage. After three surgeries, the bleeding was stopped, and Assi survived. However, he had to step back from his career for a short while and recover.


This provided impetus for other members of the family to provide assistance in the family musical business. Sixteen-year-old Ziad Rahbani, the son of Fairuz and Assi, composed music for the song “Saaloui n’Nass” (“The People Asked Me”) as a tribute to his father. The song was part of the musical Al Mahatta. Assi and Mansour’s younger brother Elias stepped in and handled the orchestration and musical arrangement for the performance.


When Assi’s health returned, the trio continued their collaboration, with Assi joining Mansour in writing musicals, many of which had political themes. The situation in Lebanon was in a critical phase at this time, and in 1975, a civil war erupted, which would last until 1990. In many respects, it was a war of religion as well as politics. Although the trio were of a Christian background, they performed in both Christian and Muslim parts of Beirut, and their songs were loved across the religious and political divide.


Touring took its toll on Assi’s health, and in 1979, after a huge tour of Europe and the Gulf States, the trio decided to end their professional relationship. Assi continued to write with Mansour while Fairuz worked on projects with her and Assi’s son, Ziad, and daughter, Rima.


The Best of Fairuz. Source: last.fm


In the 1980s, the Rahbani brothers wrote a number of songs for Lebanese singers Ronza and her sister, Fadia Tanb El-Hage. In 1986, Assi fell into a coma, and on June 26, he died at the age of 63. The whole of Lebanon mourned his passing, and a ceasefire was called in Beirut, allowing Assi’s funeral procession to pass through both Christian and Muslim parts of Beirut without disruption.


In 1998, Fairuz, Mansour, Elias, and Ziad performed together at the Baalbeck International Festival, celebrating old songs and unveiling new songs to a sold-out crowd. This was the first time Mansour and Elias had collaborated in almost 25 years.



elias rahbani cover
Elias Rahbani. Source: last.fm


Elias was the much younger brother of Assi and Mansour. His brothers looked after him, paying for Elias to have private music lessons in his youth. He finished his studies at the National Music College from 1955 to 1956.


His passion as a teenager was playing the piano, but at the age of 19, his hopes were dashed when a hand injury interrupted his dreams. He would later train his left hand, but in the meantime, he concentrated on composition.


It would not be long before his career took off. In 1958, at the age of 20, he was contacted by the Arabic Service of the BBC. They asked him to write 40 songs and compose the soundtracks for 13 radio productions. This was a huge task that kept Elias busy and formed a foundation for his career as a composer and songwriter. In the early 1970s, when he was working for Radio Lebanon, he met Nina Khalil, whom he married. The couple were together until Elias died from Covid in 2021.


When the Lebanese Civil War broke out, Elias and his wife moved to Paris, where he continued his work. He wrote songs for many Lebanese singers, such as Julia Boutros, Majida El Roumi, Pascale Sakr, Wadih Safi, Nasri Shamseddine, Melhem Barakat, and Haifa Wehbe.


During his life, Elias wrote over 2,500 songs and the soundtracks to 25 movies.


The Second Generation

ziad rahbani zouk festival
Ziad Rahbani in concert. Source: Art and Culture Today


Fairuz and Assi had four children – Ziad, Rima, Layal, and Hali. Born on January 1, 1956, Ziad became very well-known throughout Lebanon for his work as a playwright, composer, pianist, and a political commentator; the latter being of great importance, especially during the Lebanese Civil War. Layal died of a brain hemorrhage when she was just 17, and Hali is mentally and physically disabled. Rima films and produces her mother’s shows.


Elias and Nina had three children – Ghassan, Jad, and Ilham. Ghassan, born in 1964, is today a prominent figure in the music industry as well. He is a composer, lyricist, producer, orchestra conductor, pianist, and singer, exhibiting the vast array of musical talent inherent in the Rahbani family. Jad is also a composer and a musician and manages his late father’s studio, Elias Rahbani Studio.


Mansour and his wife, Thereze, had three children – Oussama, Marwan, and Ghadi. All three children have had successful careers in the music industry. Ghadi and Marwan are famous for producing shows and music aimed at children, while Oussama has collaborated with them on many occasions, creating music for his brothers as well as his father.


The Third Generation

Malek Rahbani. Source: IMDb


The Rahbani name still holds significant weight in Lebanon. The success of a third generation of Rahbanis is prominent in the world of music, stage, and television. Malek Rahbani, son of Marwan Rahbani, is a highly acclaimed actor who has starred in series, films, and theatrical plays.


omar rahbany 1
Omar Rahbany. Source: Bahrain Calendar


Omar Rahbany, born in 1989 to Ghadi and Danielle, is another rising star in the world of music and entertainment. His critically acclaimed album, Passport, is a prime example of his international outlook on his music, and his style incorporates many facets of music from all corners of the globe.


The story of the Rahbani family in the realm of the arts is far from over. Earning admiration and respect from their national compatriots as well as from a wider international audience, the individuals of the Rahbani family ushered in a golden age for arts, culture, and music in Lebanon. The legacy of this golden age has not dissipated and is continued by the descendants of the older generation who stamped the Rahbani name on the music industry.

Author Image

By Greg BeyerAssistant Editor; African HistoryGreg is an editor specializing in African history, he has authored over 200 articles. A former English teacher with a BA in History & Linguistics and a Journalism Diploma from the University of Cape Town, he excels in academic writing and finds artistic expression through drawing and painting in his free time.