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The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Was 20 Years Ago Today

On April 20, 1992, a veritable “Who’s Who” (and, in a few cases, “Who’s That?”) played before 72,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium to celebrate the life of Freddie Mercury and to raise funds for The Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity organization that is still active today. Tickets sold out three hours after they went on sale, before any artists other than the remaining members of Queen had been confirmed to appear. It was an emotional day for all involved, and despite the best efforts of all the performers, the fans and critics agreed that even though he appeared only in video clips on the giant screens, it was Freddie himself who, one last time, stole the show. Here’s just a very brief recap of some of the more memorable performances that day:

Axl Rose and Elton John

Just days after Freddie’s funeral, Axl Rose phoned the Queen Productions office in London and told the band’s manager (regarding any sort of future tribute), “I don’t know what you guys are gonna do, but I’m in.” Rose had mentioned in a 1989 Rolling Stone interview that while growing up he’d always buy the latest Queen album when it was released, and that Queen II was his favorite. The Guns N’ Roses frontman was infamous for his many homophobic slurs in the press, so it was a particularly poignant moment during “Bohemian Rhapsody” when he embraced Elton John onstage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4T_naBRNLlo

George Michael

Michael’s note-perfect recreation of Freddie’s live version of “Somebody to Love” convinced fans that this man probably spent many childhood hours in the mirror singing Queen songs into a hairbrush. Michael’s Tribute Concert performance was released on an EP called Five Live in 1993 and went to Number One on the UK charts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYAR8RigqDA

Extreme

Extreme had always listed Queen as one of their main influences, and that fact was never more obvious than during the Freddie Tribute Concert. Taking their cue from Queen’s Live Aid performance, they played a medley of hits that showed off their tight vocal harmonies. They also tossed in a snippet of fan favorite “Mustapha,” using it to segue into “Bohemian Rhapsody” as Freddie often did on tour.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00L_4GhiAJA

Robert Plant

One bittersweet treat for fans was hearing later Queen songs – those recorded after the band had stopped touring – performed live for the first time. Former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant gamely attempted “Innuendo” (the epic title song from the last Queen album released during Freddie’s lifetime), reading the lyrics from sheets taped to the stage floor. Plant had been just one of many stars who’d asked aloud during rehearsals, “How did he (Freddie) hit these notes?!” The Zep classics “Thank You” and “Kashmir” were less of a strain for his vocal range and after nailing those tunes he visibly relaxed before launching into “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7LM9s3Lm4A&feature=related

Roger Daltrey

Who singer Daltrey, no slouch himself when it comes to showmanship, described Freddie as “the best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time.” Roger chose to sing “I Want It All,” another tune that Queen had not previously performed live, and did a credible job with it. Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath was also on hand adding his signature guitar wizardry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXO6BYFDiC8

David Bowie

For a time after “Under Pressure” was released in 1981, Queen guitarist Brian May often imperiously referred to David as “Mr. Bowie” with just a hint of derision. Apparently during their time in the studio together, May got the feeling that Mr. Bowie was rather dismissive of guitarists in general. Luckily that hatchet was eventually buried and Bowie was welcomed to the Tribute Concert. He sang his own hit, “Heroes,” accompanied by former bandmate Mick Ronson on guitar. The two hadn’t performed together since 1973, and by this time Ronson was very ill with liver cancer (he would succumb just a year later). Between songs, Bowie knelt down and recited The Lord’s Prayer in tribute to both Freddie and another friend who was ill with AIDS at the time. Shrugged a confused May afterward, “He didn’t do that during rehearsals.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0fTEll9Fzk

Liza Minelli

Judy Garland’s daughter may have seemed like an unusual choice to sing “We Are the Champions” to the casual viewer, but Queen fans knew that the Broadway legend was one of Freddie’s main influences. “Liza, in terms of sheer talent, just oozes with it. She has sheer energy and stamina,” he once enthused in an interview.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwLoK0P-zpA

You can see who else performed that day over on Wikipedia. Forty years after their first album was released, Queen’s back catalog is still selling strongly. What’s your favorite Queen song? If you were organizing a similar tribute concert today, what song would you assign to, say, Lady Gaga? Or Adele? Or….(fill in the blank)?

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


Getty Images

There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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