19 years ago today, the world lost an amazing singer and frontman: Freddie Mercury of Queen. Known for his amazing four-octave plus vocal range and his phenomenal stage presence, Mercury is often touted to be the top rock singer of all time. I wholeheartedly agree.
Born in Stone Town, Zanzibar on September 5th, 1946, Mercury was first known to the world as Farrokh Bulsara. His parents, Bomi and Jer, were Parsis from the Guarjat region in British India. As a Parsi, Freddie and his family, including sister Kashmira, practiced the Zoroastrian religion.
At the age of 8, Freddie was sent away to an all-boy boarding school, St. Peter’s, nearby Bombay. This is where he first began his musical career. There, he formed a popular school band, The Hectics, where he played piano, and where he began to have himself called “Freddie”. Throughout the rest of his childhood, Freddie remained in India with his grandmother and aunt, and eventually graduated from St. Mary’s.
Due to the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, Mercury’s family relocated to a small house in Feltham, Middlesex, England. Mercury, who was 17 at the time, enrolled at Islesworth Polytechnic (now West Thames College) where he studied art, but ended up receiving his diploma at Ealing Art College. With his new-found art and graphic design skills, Mercury himself created the iconic Queen logo many of us recognize today.
After his graduation, Freddie drifted around and played in various bands, worked in second-hand clothing stores, and even worked at Heathrow Airport for awhile. It wasn’t until April of 1970 where he met Brian May and Roger Taylor, who would eventually become the guitarist and drummer for Queen respectively. Despite others having objections to a band named Queen, Mercury went ahead and choose the name anyways, saying that he “was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.” Freddie also officially, and legally, changed his last name to Mercury around the same time.
In terms of vocals, Freddie had excellent range. His speaking voice was classified baritone, but most of Queen’s songs were delivered in tenor range. According to websites “his vocal range extended from bass low E (E2) to coloratura falsetto E-natural (E6). His belting register soaring to tenor high F (F5).” To really emphasize what an amazing voice he had, Mercury claimed to have had no formal training, and he even suffered from vocal fold nodules.
He also was an accomplished songwriter, having scribed 10 out of the 17 tracks that can be found on Queen’s Greatest Hits albums, despite the fact that he couldn’t read music. During live performances, Freddie was over-the-top, theatrical, and a true performer. Every inch of the stage was used, the crowd was in the palm of his hand, and he would truly give it his all. Sometimes he would wear flamboyant outfits, or sometimes he would simply wear formfitting pants. Either way, that didn’t prevent him from strutting across the stage and performing like each show was his last.
In his personal life, Mercury had both male and female partners. One partner, Mary Austin, remained a dear friend of Freddie’s. So dear that in an interview he said that Austin was “my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” He also penned “Love of my Life” after her. When Austin moved on and had a son, Richard, Mercury was named the child’s godfather.
It was a little after Easter of 1987 when Freddie was diagnosed with HIV, and despite having said in an interview that he tested negative, the press was relentless and pressed on the issue for many years. As time went by, there were noticeable physical changes in Mercury. He was losing weight, he started to look gaunt in the face, and he also started to get that pale, “sickly” look to him. It was abundantly clear that something was wrong with his health, and unfortunately that only helped fuel the badgering press.
On November 22nd, 1991 Freddie called Queen’s manager over to his home to discuss a statement that would be released to the press the following day. On the 23rd, manager Jim Beach issued this on behalf of Freddie:
Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors, and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.
Sadly, Mercury died the following evening at the young age of 45. His cause of death was bronchial pneumonia, a result of AIDS.
The impact Mercury left on the world can still be seen today. Queen is still as popular as ever, and their songs are everywhere. In the first Wayne’s World movie there was the scene with the guys rocking out in the car to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Nine Inch Nails did a great cover of ‘Get Down, Make Love’, and recently Queen songs have been in episodes of the FOX hit Glee.
I personally remember the day Freddie died, and remember watching the tribute concert that was held. It truly was a sad day, and even now I get choked up when watching videos of him performing because we really lost something special. Never again will the world see somebody as brilliant, as talented, or as dynamic as Freddie.
Rest in peace Freddie. We love and miss you.
Fat Bottomed Girls – Live at The Bowl
Under Pressure – Live at Wembley
I Want to Break Free – Live at Wembley
Love of My Life – Live at Wembley
Bohemian Rhapsody – Live at Wembley
Big Spender & Radio GaGa – Live at Wembley
Killer Queen – Live at Rock Montreal