At the turn of the millennium when New Orleans musician Freddie Ross started performing under the name Big Freedia, the odds of him catching a break outside the local scene were slim. Bounce music–the hyperkinetic, hypnotically repetitive style of dance music that he works in–was barely known beyond the city limits. Add to that the fact that he’s a gay black man who cultivates a deliberately gender-blurry identity, which at the time was an incredibly tough sell to a straight mainstream audience.
Fifteen years later, Freedia’s had the last laugh. His transcendently joyous performances have found him an audience that crosses all demographics and has made him a fixture on the festival circuit (even landing him a gig opening for the Postal Service on their reunion tour), and in 2013 he launched a reality show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, that’s become one of the most popular programs on the Fuse network. He has a memoir, God Save the Queen Diva, due out in the summer. Meanwhile bounce music—and twerking, its signature dance move—thas snuck stealthily into the mainstream.
Freedia credits his success to a relentless work ethic. “Consistency is the key,” he says, “know what I’m saying? I never gave up. Even in the clubs here in New Orleans, I was the one people saw every week, 24/7 on the clock, for years, for years, for years, for years, just really working and grinding. When I put my mind to it and said that this was gonna become a full-on career for me, I just gave my all and never stopped.”
The boundless, gleeful hedonism that Freedia whips up in his crowds is another key element. “I mean, I like a party,” he says. “I bring New Orleans wherever I go, and we party down here in New Orleans. So I just wanna have that feeling all over the world. And people love to party.”
Queen of Bounce’s third season, which kicked off this week, delves into more complex emotional territory, at least in part because Freedia’s mother recently passed away. “You’re definitely going to see a lot of interesting things this season,” he says. “A lot of drama, lots of laughter, lots of emotions. It was an emotional rollercoaster, definitely, for me, being that this tour was dedicated to my mom.”
Despite it all, Freedia remains indomitably positive. When asked what his biggest life goal is, he says it’s “to keep on encouraging people, and keep on inspiring, until my time is up. And definitely make sure that I leave the Big Freedia legacy, that it can carry on for generations. People can’t hold me down.”
Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce airs Wednesdays at 11 p.m. Eastern on Fuse.