Interviewer: “How would you describe yourself as an artist”

Freddie Mercury: “I’m a Musical Prostitute, my dear…That’s an asshole question to ask anybody. I’m just me…I like to enjoy myself, and what better way to do it than onstage in front of 300,000 people?

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Freddie Mercury was a powerhouse. There are many words you could use to describe the Queen vocalist: Flamboyant. Defiant. Charismatic. Courageous. Passionate. Prodigiously talented. Iconoclastic. But powerhouse is the word that best encapsulates him. With his seemingly effortless theatrical mystique, unabashed individuality, and legendary 4-octave vocal range, Mercury firmly cemented his legacy as one of the most impressive singers in history. As The Who’s Roger Daltrey commented in Jim O’Donnell’s 2013 Queen Tribute book, Freddie was “the best virtuoso rock ‘n’ roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style. He could change his style from line to line and, God, that’s an art. And he was brilliant at it.”

Related: Remembering Freddie Mercury’s Last Queen Show [Video]

Born Farrokh Bulsara to Parsi parents in the Sultane of Zanzibar (now known as Tanzania) on this day in 1946, Mercury began to show unusual musical talent while in boarding school, where he impressed his classmates at age 8 with his uncanny ability to listen to the radio and replay it note for note. His star began to rise when he moved to England as a teen and, in 1970, started Queen with Brian May, Roger Taylor, and, later, John Deacon. From the very beginning, Freddie infused the band with a vision and intention to match his own personality, down to the band’s name. “It’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations,” Mercury was quoted as saying, “It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. I was certainly aware of the gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”

Related: Queen’s Brian May Helps Name Asteroid After Freddie Mercury On 70th Birthday

With his voice and his compositions still providing the soundtrack to everything from Super Bowls to Pride parades and everything in between, Freddie’s mammoth presence continues to loom large over the world of both music and popular culture as a whole more than 20 years after AIDS claimed his life at the age of 45.

Below, watch an emotional birthday tribute video that captures Freddie Mercury’s incredible musical talent and brashly charismatic personality, shared by the band on the 20th anniversary of his death in 2011:

[Originally published 9/5/18]