Freddie Mercury is known all over the world for his impressive vocal range and flamboyant stage persona, but many are unaware of the Queen frontman’s ethnicity.
Freddie Mercury was born to Parsi-Indian parents. Parsis are an ethnic group that is part of the Zoroastrian religion from Persia (now known as Iran). Parsi-Indians migrated to India in the years AD 636–651 after facing religious persecution.
Let’s explore the early life of Freddie Mercury and how, if at all, his ethnicity influenced his life.
The Beginnings of Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury, whose birth name was Farrokh Bulsara, was born in Stone Town in the British protectorate of Zanzibar on September 5, 1946. This area is now a part of modern-day Tanzania, East Africa.
Freddie’s parents had moved to Zanzibar due to his father’s job as a cashier at the British Colonial Office. His parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara were from the Parsi community of western India and had roots in modern-day Valsad, Gujarat.
When Freddie was still young, he went to live with relatives in India, which is where he spent most of his childhood. Aged 7 years old, the young Freddie began taking piano lessons.
When he was 8, he was sent to St. Peter’s School—a British style boarding school for boys, which is where he began to call himself “Freddie.”
At the age of 12, he formed a band with his schoolmates—called the “Hectics”—which covered rock and roll artists, such as Cliff Richard and Little Richard.
Freddie’s childhood bandmate later commented, “the only music he listened to, and played, was Western pop music.”
In 1963 he moved back to Zanzibar and lived there briefly with his parents. However, they were forced to relocate the same year, due to fears of violence during the Zanzibar Revolution, which opposed the Arab Sultan.
The family, which included Freddie’s younger sister Kashmira, left for England and moved into a house in Feltham, on the outskirts of London.
Since Zanzibar—Freddie’s birthplace—was a British protectorate until 1963, Freddie was eligible to register as a British citizen and did so in 1969.
Freddie’s parents were practicing Zoroastrians. Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest religions in the world that is still practiced today.
Freddie studied art at college in London. After graduating, he worked odd jobs such as marketseller and baggage handler at Heathrow Airport. He joined a series of bands which failed to take off, until eventually forming Queen.
Did Freddie Mercury’s heritage influence his life?
Freddie integrated into Western culture with ease, and is known to have listened to Western music and embraced the culture before ever immigrating to the UK.
His long time assistant, Peter Freestone, once remarked, “If Freddie had his way, he would have been born aged 18 in Feltham.”
Friend Bob Harris said of Mercury, “One of the things about Freddie was that he was very civilised and quite ‘English’. I’d go over to his flat near Shepherd’s Bush in the afternoon, and he’d get out the fine china and the sugar lumps and we’d have a cup of tea.”
Freddie did not openly discuss his heritage of being Parsi-Indian or Zoroastrian frequently or in great length, although his family has said that he was proud of his roots and it did have an influence on his life and career.
His mother commented after her son’s death that, “Freddie was a Parsee and he was proud of that, but he wasn’t particularly religious.”
His sister discussed the influence upon Freddie from the Zorastrian religion, in 2014, by saying, “I think what his Zoroastrian faith gave him was [the desire] to work hard, to persevere, and to follow your dreams.”
Freddie himself once famously remarked, “I’ll always walk around like a Persian popinjay and no one’s going to stop me, honey!”
Listen to one of Queen’s most influential songs below.