Remembering Freddie Mercury on His 70th Birthday

Some of my favorite little moments in life are when a large eclectic group of people are brought together by Bohemian Rhapsody. This happened once when I was bowling a few months ago: Bohemian Rhapsody came on, and it felt like nearly everyone in that room, young and old, started singing along. The song is just as bold and unique as it was when it came out 41 years ago, where despite its length Queen still decided to release it as a single, and it’s been played in its entirety on the radio since then. The song, arguably the magnum opus of Queen’s discography, was the brainchild of Freddie Mercury, the band’s lead singer and the man recognized as one of the greatest singers of our time.

Farrokh Bulsara was born to Indian parents in Zanzibar, Tanzania, on September 5th, 1946. During his childhood he attended boarding school in India, where his love for music began in choir. When he was a teenager, his family moved to London, where he started going by Freddie Bulsara and attending Ealing College of Art. While he was studying graphic design and performing in bands such as Ibex and Wreckage, he got to know local London band Smile and became one of their most consistent concert-goers. When singer Tim Staffell left the band and Brian May and Roger Taylor were in need of a lead singer, Freddie stepped up and insisted on being their lead singer. After that (and the eventual acquisition of bassist John Deacon), Queen formed and history was made. Shortly thereafter Freddie Bulsara changed his name to Freddie Mercury inspired by lyrics from the Queen song My Fairy King.

Freddie was one of Queen’s primary songwriters, penning memorable hits such as Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and more. His songs explored love, loneliness, fantasy, and self-confidence, sampling genres like soul, rockabilly, funk, progressive rock, and more. In the 1980s he released a solo pop album and an opera album in collaboration with Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé.

Not only was his songwriting impeccable, but Freddie’s live performances were also electrifying. Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 is often considered one of the best at the festival, and Freddie is often near the top or at the top of lists for greatest vocalists. Listening to Freddie perform is an incredible and spine-tingling experience. One can only imagine what it would have been like to see him in person.

It wasn’t just his incredible voice that made Freddie the icon that he is remembered for. It was the vibrant energy he exuded when he was performing that captivated audiences and touched their hearts. It was the playful, honest humor and self-confidence he displayed in interviews and onstage. It was his shy but loving nature he displayed offstage around his friends. It was his willingness to be unabashedly bold and flamboyant and whoever he wanted to be in the face of people who wanted him to conform. He penetrated an otherwise largely white and heterosexual genre and gave it a little bit of light and magic and warmth that it would have lacked otherwise.

Freddie Mercury has made a difference for me in that he was my first exposure to queer culture before I realized I was queer three years later, and his music and presence acts as a constant anchor I can always go back to in hard times.  He’s made a difference for everyone else by leaving behind a legacy of music that has changed the face of rock and pop forever, and that we will continue to enjoy for generations to come. Thanks so much for everything, Freddie.

Freddie Mercury died November 24, 1991 due to AIDS-related complications. The Mercury Phoenix Trust was created in his memory to support HIV/AIDS related research and charities. Consider supporting them in Freddie’s memory.

Photo Credit: Queerty