Francis Bebey was born on July 15, 1929, in Douala, Cameroon. He was the son of a Christian minister. He grew up learning the French language and western musical traditions in school. As a youth, Bebey sampled the accordion, violin, piano, and mandolin before settling by age nine on the guitar. As a teenager living in the capital city of Douala, Bebey played guitar and drums with a popular Cameroonian dance band and became acquainted with such international musical styles as Afro-Cuban and American swing and jazz.