The Life and Legacy of Freddie Mercury
November 24th 2021 marked 30 years since the death of British singer, songwriter and record producer Freddie Mercury. There is no wonder as to why he is remembered to this day as being one of the greatest rock performers in history. His extravagance on and off-stage solidifies him as one of the most memorable artists to ever live. Recognized for his flamboyant stage persona and spectacular voice, Freddie became internationally known as the lead singer of the band Queen, playing in over 700 live performances across more than 30 countries. Despite facing controversies for things such as homosexuality through his career, he thrived because of an uncanny passion for music, never letting anyone break him down. 3 decades after his death, Queen frontman’s legacy remains unparalleled.
Freddie Mercury was originally named Farrokh Bulsara, born on September 5th, 1946 in Stone Town, Zanzibar (Now Tanzania). He was the son of a British diplomat and lived much of his early life in India and returned to England for his university studies. At the age of 8 he began studying in St. Peter’s English Boarding School. As a child and young adult, he was very interested in music and used to play records on his family’s old record player constantly. During his vacations he took a variety of jobs to earn some money; one was in the catering department at Heathrow Airport, close to where he lived, and the other was on the Feltham trading estate, where he had a job in a warehouse lifting and stacking heavy crates and boxes. His fellow workers commented on his 'delicate' hands, which were certainly not fit for such work, and asked him what he did. He told them he was a musician just 'filling in time'. To kick start his musical career, young Farrokh was heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix, an artist who had become exceedingly popular around 1967. He was such an ardent fan of Hendrix, that he even went as far as sketching and drawing his hero and framing the drawings to hang them on the walls of his flat in Kensington.
His family often looked down upon his late night outings and homosexuality, however he fully embraced his differences, and made the decision to change his legal name to create the prodigal musician known today as Freddie Mercury.
Little did anyone know, his morbid fear of dentist visits together with four extra teeth and jutting incisors, meant that his mouthful of teeth held within it a voice so precious that made it impossible, not even due to overwhelming cosmetic reasons, to get fixed.
Bohemian Rhapsody is embedded in all of our souls, even decades after its first release. This song and many others form the remarkable discography of rock band Queen. Their classic lineup consisted of Freddie Mercury, lead-singer and pianist, alongside drummer and vocalist Roger Taylor, guitarist Brian May and bassist John Deacon. During university, Brian May and Roger Taylor had previously founded the band “Smile” in 1968, but when their lead vocalist left the group, May and Taylor immediately thought of including Mercury, who was a big fan of the band at the time. Freddie suggested the name ‘Queen’ and by 1971, they had met their bassist John Deacon who joined them, and Freddie had already designed the logo of the band which included symbols of the zodiacal signs of each members: Two lions for Deacon and Taylor who are Leos, a crab for May who is a Cancer and two fairies for Mercury, a Virgo.
Almost instantaneously, the band exploded internationally. Throughout the 1970s, Queen attracted some of the largest crowds and sold out entire stadiums. Even those who don’t enjoy rock music cannot deny the catchy tunes Queen has produced in songs such as “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “We Will Rock You”. Freddie became particularly well-known for his spectacular vocal range and employment of harmonics. Through embracing femininity and eliminating any preconceived notions about rock music such as hyper-masculinity, he was able to alter the music industry forever and deem himself the title of being one of the greatest vocalists of all time.
One of Queen’s final performances as a group was at Live Aid, a benefit concert held on Saturday, 13th of July 1985 at Wembley Stadium in London. In the show, they performed some of their most well-known songs such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’. The legendary scene of Freddie Mercury winning over the crowd of over 80,000 people with his unforgettable chant: ‘Ay-Oh!” became so popular that it even appeared briefly on an episode of The Simpsons. For 20 minutes, Freddie had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand, one of the key moments that defined his greatness.
Clip of Live-Aid 1985: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkbP5OPQhdQ
Battle with AIDS
In 1987, Freddie Mercury was diagnosed HIV positive, however his illness was only made public one day before his death, on the 23rd of November, 1991.
Surprisingly, he was able to keep it hidden from the public until the day before his passing, and his heart-breaking statement to the press shocked the world: "Following enormous conjecture in the press, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However the time has now come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease”.
Innuendo, the last album to be released in Freddie's lifetime, was released in February 1991, and it includes music that was recorded over his last year alive. He had, by this time, already begun living a quiet, solitary life, with his health in decline. Even then, you find no trace of that in his vocals when he autobiographically sings ‘The Show Must Go On’. Freddie never wanted to be a “poster boy” for AIDS or a “cautionary tale”. While he is remembered more for his music than anything else, his public announcement of his health status was one of several that raised important awareness of the epidemic.
One of the most tragic losses in the music industry, Freddie Mercury left a mark on the music industry, and the world. His undeniable spark has not and will not fade away. Rockabilly to pop, opera to jazz, hard rock to anthems, Freddie's singing could reach out to you even if you were the last person in the outermost circle of a stadium setup.