The summer of 2023 is shaping up to be Big Freedia Summer, with a Pride-propelled international tour; a new show, “Big Freedia Means Business,” on Fuse TV; an eyeglass line, Shades by Big Freedia; and a makeup line with Black Opal. But New Orleans’ explosive Queen of Bounce got the party started in April, making an unlikely debut with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. It was a collaboration long in the making, and longer in the dreaming. The following comments by Big Freedia are as told to Ann Lewinson.
Around 2010 I was performing in Australia, so I went sightseeing. The Sydney Opera House was so beautiful, just the whole aesthetic of it. I was like, “Oh my God, that would be so dope if I did something with bounce and an orchestra.”
Bounce is a New Orleans-based subgenre of hip hop. It’s up-tempo, heavy bass, call-and-response music. It has a lot to deal with shaking of the ass, and we all do it, from babies to grandmothers. Crucial to its sound is the “triggerman” beat. It’s a sample from “Drag Rap” by the Showboys, which is not about drag but the old police show “Dragnet.” That triggerman beat is raunchy, it’s raw, it has the sirens and the scratches—and much love and respect to the Showboys for allowing us to use that beat for so many years.
I got involved with bounce just being a New Orleans native. I started backgrounding for Katey Red, who was the first trans in bounce music. I did a solo project at a block party, things sparked from there, and I never looked back.
But I was already known around the city for being the choir director at my high school and at my church. I started singing in the choir when I was very young. I also played bass drum when I was in middle school and high school. That didn’t last too long. I got tired of carrying that big-ass drum.
My high school choir sang in competitions, and through the New Orleans choir the Gospel Soul Children and the Gospel Music Workshop of America conventions I was able to travel and meet choirs from around the world. I was able to widen my horizons and bring a variety of things back to my choirs and the wonderful pianists and organists.
With the Gospel Soul Children, I learned valuable lessons about performing. At the beginning of “The Lord’s Prayer,” as we sang, “Our Father who art in heaven,” we would drop to our knees, all at once. As we dropped, the whole audience would stand—a standing ovation from the beginning of the song! And we did the whole song on our knees. The power of that alone was amazing.
It was a long journey from the Gospel Soul Children to the collaboration with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, which was two years in the making. The conductor, Jonathan Rush, and the arranger, Jay Weigel, had to take apart my songs and reimagine what they could sound like with a 60-piece orchestra. We had quite a few rehearsals.
It had been a dream of mine to do my music with an orchestra since that visit to Australia. So to finally get to that moment was surreal. To blend the two sounds together was magical. And I had a blast.