Zanzibar is known for many things: its history as a spice island, its blend of cultures from all over the world, its white sand beaches…
…and Freddie Mercury.
Zanzibar’s best-known son (and hands-down its most fabulous), Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town in 1946. At the time, Zanzibar was still under British rule (Zanzibar didn’t join the country of Tanzania until independence in 1961). That meant that, though he was born on an island off the eastern coast of Africa, Mercury was born a British citizen.
Mercury’s family were Parsis (the name for a branch of Zoroastrians that live in India), and his childhood was divided between Zanzibar and India. When Mercury was 17, however, the 1964 Zanzibar Revolution—during which several thousand Indians and Arabs were killed—drove his family from Zanzibar for good.
The family settled in England…
…and then the magic happened.
In 1970, Mercury joined Brian May and Robert Taylor to form what would become one of the best-loved rock bands of all time: Queen.
Over the years, their songs ran the gamut from disco to rockabilly to heavy metal. The one constant, however, was Mercury’s remarkable ability as a singer and performer. Ten of the 17 songs on Queen’s greatest hits album were written by Mercury, and in 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him 18th on their “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” list. In 2009, Classic Rock readers voted him the greatest rock singer of all time.
Though Mercury died of complications from AIDS in 1991, the band’s popularity has hardly waned; according to the RIAA, Queen has sold nearly 35 million albums in the United States alone, about half of them since Mercury’s death.
The release of the movie Wayne’s World helped turn Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” into a fan favorite
Mercury also lives on in other ways. In 2013, a group of scientists discovered a new genus of frogs in Kerala, India, near where Mercury spent much of his childhood. They named the group “Mercurana,” after the singer, reportedly because Mercury’s “vibrant music inspires” them.