Gencebay was born in the coastal town of Samsun on 4 August 1944. He is of Crimean Tatar descent. He started learning music at the age of six, taking violin and mandolin lessons from Emin Tarakçı who was an old Classical Musician from the Ukraine Conservatoire. At the age of seven, he started playing the bağlama (a traditional Turkish instrument), and continued taking traditional Turkish folk music lessons. At age ten, he created his first composition. At age 13, he started playing the tambur, an instrument often used in Turkish classical music to improve himself in the theoretical and practical details of Turkish classical music.
During his high school years, he performed in Classical and Traditional Turkish Folk Music groups playing the tambur and baglama, taught music lessons in his own music courses, and took part in organizing community music centers in Istanbul and Samsun.
When he was sixteen, he became interested in jazz and rock music, and started playing tenor saxophone in wind orchestras. He enrolled in the Turkish conservatory in Istanbul, and studied there for four years. During his military service, he played saxophone in the military brass band.
At ages 20 and 22, he passed the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) auditions and became a resident bağlama player at the network for several months. In 1966, he got an excellent grade in National Bağlama Contest with Arif Sağ and Cinucen Tanrikorur, two other contemporary masters of Turkish music.
In the late sixties, he collaborated with a wide range of musicians in performances and film music. Between 1966 and 1968, he played bağlama with Arif Sağ in many records with singers such as Muzaffer Akgün, Yıldız Tezcan, Ahmet Sezgin, Şükran Ay, Sabahat Akkiraz, and Nuri Sesigüzel. Gencebay also took part as a music director in many Turkish films such as Ana, Kuyu, Kızılırmak-Karakoyun. He also collaborated with many musicians from different genres, such as Erkin Koray, Omar Faruk Tekbilek, Ismet Siral, Burhan Tonguc, Ozer Senay, Vedat Yildirimbora, Neşet Ertaş, Abdullah Nail Baysu. He appeared as a baglama performer and a well-known composer in musical societies, besides releasing several singles in genre of traditional Turkish folk music. In 1968, he released his first “free-style” single “Sensiz Bahar Gecmiyor/Basa Gelen Cekilirmis”, and was rewarded. During the 1970s, he released many singles in a new genre that is a fusion of traditional Turkish folk music, Turkish classical music, Western classical music, jazz, rock, country, progressive, psychedelic, Indian, Arabic, Spanish, and Greek music styles. Even though some musical societies such as TRT named that kind of World fusion music recordings Arabesque music, Orhan Gencebay refused the term arabesque, saying it was inadequate to define his style. In 1972, he founded the Kervan Record Company, which became very successful, attracting many other talented musicians such as Erkin Koray, Ajda Pekkan, Muazzez Abaci, Mustafa Sagyasar, Ahmet Ozhan, Kamuran Akkor, Semiha Yanki, Samime Sanay, Neşe Karaböcek, Bedia Akarturk, Nil Burak, Ziya Taskent, Semiramis Pekkan and Ferdi Ozbegen.
Throughout his career, Orhan has performed leading roles in 36 movies, has been a composer almost in 90 movies, composed of about a thousand works, released almost 35 singles, 15 albums, and dozens of MCs. His albums sold out over 65 million legal copies.