Freddie Mercury was the face of Queen’s wildly popular mixture of hard rock, pop, cabaret, glam and opera in the ’70s, before becoming one the the AIDS virus’ most well-known casualties in the ’90s. He died on Nov. 24, 1991, just two days after confirming rumors that he had the disease.
At Queen’s zenith, Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon forged a completely new hybrid that centered on Mercury’s brand of impish decadence, one that ultimately became bound up in the mythology of his early passing, as well. But the group, and Mercury, was always more than the sum of its out-sized bacchanalia. Queen’s signature creative moment was also Mercury’s, as he layered his own voice into a choir for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a painstaking process in the days of reel-to-reel tape. Over the years, Mercury also wrote “Killer Queen,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Are the Champions” for Queen, while issuing a well-received solo reinterpretation of the Platters’ “The Great Pretender” in 1987.
Along the way, the band’s unique musical alchemy, not to mention those elaborate studio concoctions, set the standard for a series of suitably far-flung bands: Journey swiped Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker for its first albums with Steve Perry, while Styx would borrow heavily from Mercury’s knack for Broadway prog. Neo-classical heavy metal artists like Yngwie Malmsteen consistently referenced the band’s crunchy rock template, while Metallica went so far as to record their own version of Queen’s “Stone Cold Crazy.” There are countless others.
Freddie Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara on Thursday September 5th 1946 on the small spice island of Zanzibar. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, were both Parsee (Persian). His father, Bomi, was a civil servant, working as a High Court cashier for the British Government. Freddie’s sister, Kashmira, was born in 1952. In 1954, at the age of eight, Freddie was shipped to St Peter’s English boarding school in Panchgani, about fifty miles outside Bombay. It was there his friends began to call him Freddie, a name the family also adopted.
He was also music mad and played records on the family’s old record player, stacking the singles to play constantly. The music he was able to get was mostly Indian, but some Western music was available. He would sing along to either and preferred music to school work.
The principal headmaster of St Peter’s had noticed Freddie’s musical talent, and wrote to his parents suggesting that they might wish to pay a little extra on Freddie’s school fees to enable him to study music properly. They agreed, and Freddie began to learn to play the piano. He also became a member of the school choir and took part regularly in school theatrical productions. He loved his piano lessons and applied himself to them with determination and skill, finally achieving Grade IV both in practical and theory. In 1958, five friends at St Peter’s – Freddie Bulsara, Derrick Branche, Bruce Murray, Farang Irani and Victory Rana – formed the school’s rock’n roll band, the Hectics, where Freddie was the piano player. They would play at school parties, at annual fetes and school dances, but little else is known about them.
In 1962, Freddie finished school, returned to Zanzibar and spent his time with friends in and around the markets, parks and beaches. In 1964, many of the British and Indians, due to political unrest in Zanzibar, left their country, although not under forcible pressure, and among those driven out were the Bulsaras who migrated to England.
The Bulsara family moved to Middlesex in 1964 and from there Freddie joined up with a blues band called Wreckage while studying graphic design courses at Ealing College of Art. While singing for Wreckage, a fellow student introduced Freddie to Roger Taylor and Brian May, founder members of a band called Smile. Smile metamorphosed into Queen when Freddie joined Roger and Brian as the lead vocalist. The final member of the band, which was to stay together for the next 20 years, was bassist John Deacon, who joined the band on 1st of March 1971.
The rest is rock history. EMI Records and Elektra Records signed the band and in 1973 their debut album ‘Queen’ was released and hailed as one of the most exciting developments ever in rock music.
The immortal operatically styled single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was released in 1975 and proceeded to the top of the UK charts for 9 weeks. A song that was nearly never released due to its length and unusual style but which Freddie insisted would be played became the instantly recognisable hit. By this time Freddie’s unique talents were becoming clear, a voice with a remarkable range and a stage presence that gave Queen its colourful, unpredictable and flamboyant personality.
On October 8th, 1988 Freddie and Montserrat appeared at the huge open air La Nit festival in Barcelona. They performed three tracks from their forthcoming album – How Can I Go On,The Golden Boy and Barcelona, accompanied by Mike Moran on piano. The long-awaited album, Barcelona, finally come out on October 10th.
October 8th was the last time Freddie Mercury performed on stage. At the time, he was terribly ill with AIDS, although he didn’t want people to know about it. He announced that fact the day before he died. Being ill he continued to compose and record songs and even took part in making videos. In my opinion, I’m Going Slightly Mad video is his masterpiece.
On November 24th, 1991 Freddie died peacefully at his home in London of AIDS-related bronchial pneumonia.
On April 20th, 1992 a tribute concert in Freddie’s memory was held at Wembley Stadium, and many famous rock stars took part in it. But the best tribute to Freddie was the album Made In Heaven, released on November 6th, 1995 by the three remaining members of Queen. We can hear the last songs that Freddie composed and recorded.