On this day in 1946, Freddie Mercury was born as Frederick Bulsara in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Mercury led Queen through the '70s and '80s, as they entertained fans with an unusual mix of theatrical hard rock and pomp pop.
Mercury studied graphic design in London and sang with bands such as Sour Milk Sea and Wreckage before a roommate introduced him to guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor in 1970. The three formed Queen without a permanent bassist until John Deacon joined in mid-1971. In 1973, before Queen issued their first album, Mercury, under the name Larry Lurex, released a cover of the Beach Boys' "I Can Hear Music." Later that year, Queen unveiled their eponymous debut album and first single, "Keep Yourself Alive."
In 1974, Queen headlined their first tour in Britain and released the U.K. top 5 Queen II. The band supported Mott The Hoople on a U.S. trek, before issuing Sheer Heart Attack. "Killer Queen" became Queen's first U.S. hit in 1975, the same year "Bohemian Rhapsody," their operatic opus, topped the U.K. chart. "Rhapsody" was accompanied by a rock video, a novelty at the time.
A Night At The Opera made the U.S. top 5 in 1976, just before Queen unveiled another smash, A Day At The Races. The following year came the explosive News of the World, an international hit yielding the classic double-sided single "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions."
In 1978, semi-nude female bicyclists came onstage with Queen at New York City's Madison Square Garden during "Fat Bottomed Girls," Queen's hit from their Jazz LP. Two years later, the Mercury-penned rockabilly "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" topped the U.S. charts, followed by the #1 disco smash "Another One Bites The Dust."
In 1981, Queen scored a U.K. #1 with "Under Pressure," a collaboration with David Bowie. In 1985, Mercury issued his first solo album, Mr. Bad Guy. Also that year, Queen stole the show at the Live Aid benefit concert. Organizer Bob Geldof later said: "It was the perfect stage for Freddie. He could pounce about in front of the whole world."
Two years later, Mercury had a top 5 U.K. hit with his cover of the Platters' "The Great Pretender" and issued "Barcelona," a duet with Spanish opera singer Monserrat Caballe. Queen's The Miracle (1989) brought them back to the top of the U.K. charts, while 1991's Innuendo and its title track debuted at #1.
Soon after, Mercury announced he had AIDS right before his death on Nov. 24, 1991. His demise brought a resurgence in popularity to Queen's catalogue in the U.S. and a reissued "Bohemian Rhapsody" went to #2 after being featured in the film "Wayne's World."
The remaining members of Queen staged "A Concert for Life" at Wembley Stadium in London in 1992 as a tribute to Mercury and a benefit for AIDS Awareness. George Michael, Liza Minnelli and others handled the vocals of Mercury, whose star has not dimmed since his death.
Other birthdays: John Stewart (composer), 59; Al Stewart, 53; Dean Ford (Marmalade), 52; Buddy Miles, 52; Loudon Wainwright III, 52; Dave Clempson (Humble Pie), 49; and Terry Ellis (En Vogue), 32.