George Michael called his performance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness as “very probably the most important performance of my life.” George’s performance was heartfelt and stunning, and many news reports throughout the years agree that George was the top star of the star-studded evening.
The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held on April 20, 1992, at the Wembley Stadium in front of an audience of 72,000. It was organized by the three remaining Queen members to celebrate the life of their hugely flamboyant frontman, Freddie Mercury. Freddie died of an AIDS-related illness five months earlier on November 24, 1991. The concert was the first major rock event to draw attention to AIDS awareness. Aside from George Michael, other performers include Elton John, David Bowie, Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose, Metallica, Annie Lenox, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli and many more.
To this day, the Freddie Mercury tribute concert remains the largest concert held in tribute to a deceased musician. Tickets sold out in a matter of hours, before the lineup of performers was even announced. The concert was broadcast in 76 countries, about one billion people watched the show live.
Praise for George Michael
George was hailed for his electric performance at the concert. German publication Deutsche Welle described George’s performance as:
George Michael undeniably offered the best performance of the evening. With his version of the Queen classic hit “Somebody To Love,” he captivated fans just like Freddie had during his peak. “It was probably the proudest moment of my career, because it was me living out a childhood fantasy: to sing one of Freddie’s songs in front of 80,000 people,” Michael later said.
Rolling Stone credited George’s performances as the biggest thing to come out of the show:
But the biggest thing to come out of the show, other than a home-video release, was a collection of George Michael’s performances with (and a few without) Queen on an EP called Five Live that came out a year later. His performances of “Somebody to Love” and a duet with Lisa Stansfield on “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” Proceeds from the release benefited the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity organization that had been launched in Freddie’s name to combat AIDS, and it became a Number One seller in the U.K., going gold there; it bowed at Number 46 on the Billboard 200 but the songs received copious MTV airtime.
Prayer for Anselmo
Unbeknownst to the public at that time, the impact of HIV had hit George very personally. His then partner Anselmo Felleppa had contracted the deadly virus. For George, he was determined to make “his performance both the perfect tribute to Freddie but also a prayer for Anselmo.”
As George revealed in the Freedom documentary released in 2017 and the Red Line interviews, Freddie was an important influence on him growing up:
My subconscious knew that singing a Freddie Mercury song after his passing in front of my lover. My subconscious knew this was very probably the most important performance of my life. Because I had to take all those years of standing in a bedroom, whether it be with a mic – I don’t think I had a hairbrush – but I would stand and sing to the mirror and sing all those Queen songs and know them backwards, know the harmonies, know everything about them. And that child was going to take all that knowledge all that subconscious eating in of music from that group and sing one of Freddie Mercury’s songs to the world.
So I went for five days to rehearse. Everyone else went for an afternoon. I went for five days because it had to be perfect. I think it’s probably my most famous performance.
But most of all, Anselmo was in the audience
Anselmo was there and I was dying inside. And my whole … I went into another place! I went into another place. This was the loudest prayer of my life. And it’s not an accident … it’s not an accident that the performance, probably most well-known in my career, was sung to my lover who was dying. That will hopefully never happen again. The fact that it happened that way … I mean, my God, talk about destiny.
In March 1993, Anselmo died from an AIDS-related illness.
Videos of George’s Performance
Watch the video of George Michael’s performance of the Queen song “Somebody to Love” and you can really feel how powerful of a performance this must have been:
George also performed the song “These Are the Days of Our Lives” with Lisa Stansfield.
In an interview with Billboard.com about her North American tour, Lisa recalled working with George in the Freddie Mercury tribute concert:
Everybody who did that show was just so famous at the time. It was like, legends all over the place, but nobody had an ego. The rehearsals were quite subdued. I remember at the rehearsals I was gonna do the thing with George, and I went and got myself a big bacon roll because I was starving. I had on one of Ian’s coats and a big hat on. I really did look like a homeless person, buried in a bacon sandwich. Then I had to go do this thing with George, and he said, “Fucking hell, how can you go eat bacon and [perform like] that?”
Here is the official video, which shows the rehearsal footage of George and Lisa with the Queen:
After the concert, Lisa said she had dinner with George and recounted this funny incident:
We went for a meal, actually [after the concert]. We met George at the Ivy, me and Ian. He asked, “Do you want to go out with me and Brian [May] and [his wife] Anita?” I knew Anita already because I’d done theater with her. So we’re all sitting at this table, me and Ian and George, waiting for Brian May. And then George just goes, “Fucking hell — I never told Brian to come!” He had to phone Brian, and eventually they came and it was really nice.
Also, watch rare footage of George Michael belting out Queen’s Somebody To Love and stunning David Bowie and Seal at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert rehearsals:
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- George Michael in Luciano Pavarotti’s Charity Concert (2000)
- Stand By Me: AIDS Day Benefit Live at Wembley (1987)