Big Freedia (/ˈfriːdə/ FREE-də) is the stage name of Freddie Ross, an American musician known for work in the New Orleans genre of hip hop called bounce music. He has been credited with helping popularize the genre, which was largely underground since developing in the early 1990s.
He started his career around 1999 performing in Jamaica, and released the studio album Dancehall Queen Diva in 2003. He first gained mainstream exposure in 2009, and his 2010 album Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 was re-released on Scion A/V in March 2011, as well as a number of music videos.
He has been featured in publications such as The Village Voice and The New York Times, and has performed on Last Call with Carson Daly, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and at SXSW, where he received a positive review from Rolling Stone. In 2011 he was named Best Emerging Artist and Best Hip-Hop/Rap Artist in January's "Best of the Beat Awards," and was nominated for the 2011 22nd GLAAD Media Awards.
Freddie Ross was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a child he took piano and sang in choir, and has said music was always a part of his life. His mother exposed him to artists such as Patti LaBelle, and he was also influenced by the late soul singer Sylvester, Michael Jackson, and Salt-n-Pepa.
He attended Walter L. Cohen High School, where he continued to perform in choir and also became the choir director. This experience made him realize he could write and produce. According to Ross, he initially suffered from stage-fright, and had to coax himself onto stage until he became comfortable performing.
In 1998, a young drag queen by the name of Katey Red performed bounce music at an influential club near the Melpomene housing project where he grew up. Freddie, who had grown up four blocks away from Katey Red, began performing as a backup dancer and singer in Red's shows. In 1999, Katey Red released Melpomene Block Party on the city's leading bounce label, Take Fo Records.
Freedia adopted his stage name after a friend dubbed him "Freedia" (pronounced "Freeda"). According to Ross, "I wanted a catchy name that rhymed, and my mother had a club called Diva that I worked for. I called myself the queen of diva - so I coined it: Big Freedia Queen Diva."
In 1999, Freedia released his first single, "An Ha, Oh Yeah," and began performing frequently in clubs and other venues in New Orleans. Other local hits included "Rock Around the Clock" and "Gin 'N My System," which was later quoted by Lil Wayne on a mix tape. He released his first studio album, Queen Diva, in 2003.
Freedia is often described as an artist within the "sissy bounce" subgenre, though Freedia has stated "there's no such thing as separating it into straight bounce and sissy bounce. It's all bounce music." About Freedia's popularity with women at live shows, music journalist Alison Fensterstock wrote, "When Freedia or Sissy Nobby's singing superaggressive, sexual lyrics about bad boyfriends or whatever, there's something about being able to be the 'I' in the sentence...it's tough to sing along about bitches and hoes when you're a girl. When you identify with Freedia, you're the agent of all this aggressive sexuality instead of its object."
Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, and Freedia, along with other bounce artists such as Katey Red and Freedia's protege Sissy Nobby, were forced to vacate the city. Freedia settled for several months in Texas, where he began performing bounce shows for the locals, helping spread awareness of the genre like other displaced bounce artists. He moved back to New Orleans at the first opportunity. According to Freedia, "The first club that reopened in New Orleans was Caesar's, and they called me immediately and said let's do a regular night with you here. So we started FEMA Fridays. It was the only club open in the city, and a lot of people had a lot of money from Katrina, the checks and stuff, so the joy inside that club -- I don't think that'll ever come back."
He played six to ten shows a week at block parties, nightclubs, strip clubs, and other venues while the city recuperated. According to Fensterstock, "Freedia was one of the first artists to come back after the storm and start working, and she worked really, really hard. If you lived here, it became impossible not to know who she was."
Big Freedia first began to gain national exposure after a 2009 fest-closing gig with Katey Red and Sissy Nobby at the Bingo Parlour Tent and the 2009 Voodoo Experience. On January 18, 2010, he self-released the album Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 on Big Freedia Records. The album was a collection of previously performed singles from 1999 to 2010.
In March 2010 he was booked for a showcase of New Orleans bounce music at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, but cancelled after an injury. He signed to the Windish Agency afterwards, and booked a summer tour. Along with Katey Red, Cheeky Blakk, and Sissy Nobby, he was a guest on the May 2010 album Ya-ka-may by funk band Galactic. He joined the band for several gigs, and the album peaked at #161 on the US Billboard Chart.
In May 2010, Big Freedia began touring with DJ Rusty Lazer and a team of "bootydancers," along with pop band Matt & Kim. He performed at Hoodstock in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn in May 2010, and afterwards was written up in the Village Voice. He performed for contemporary art mogul Jeffrey Deitch at Basel Miami and at New York's MoMa art museum. Upon returning to New Orleans, he was pursued by a New York journalist and was featured in The New York Times on July 22, 2010. He continued to tour throughout the United States, and in Fall 2010 had his first national television appearance on the Last Call with Carson Daly. In October 2010, the New Orleans Times-Picayune called him an "overnight sensation".
In 2011 Freedia was named Best Emerging Artist and Best Hip-Hop/Rap Artist in January's "Best of the Beat Awards." Big Freedia Hitz Vol. 1 was nominated by the 22nd GLAAD Media Awards in 2011. The album was re-released on Scion A/V in March 2011, along with a number of music videos. He also won an MTV 0 Award in 2012 for "Too Much Ass for TV."
He appeared on HBO's Treme, a drama following residents of New Orleans as they try to rebuild after Katrina. He performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on January 25, 2012. His performance at SXSW in 2012 was reviewed by Rolling Stone as "Probably this writer's favorite SXSW set."
Freedia toured with The Postal Service in 2013, opening for the band at numerous venues throughout July and August.
In fall of 2013, music television channel Fuse aired the first season of Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, a reality show chronicling Freedia's growing mainstream attention and life back in New Orleans. During publicity for the show, Freedia led a crowd of hundreds in New York City to set the Guinness World Record for twerking.
In summer of 2014, music television channel Fuse aired the second season of "Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce", the reality show continued to track his success as a mainstream a Bounce artist as well as follow his mothers battle with cancer. Vera Ross (mother of Big Freedia) lost her battle on April 1, 2014 while Freedia was away doing a show. Freedia flew back immediately when he received the news and planned a full jazz funeral through the streets of New Orleans for his beloved mother, which was aired on his reality show.
On July 31, 2014 Freedia will headline "4th Year Anniversary of Bounce Event" at Republic.
He is also closely related to the Noel family. Freedia operates an interior design business, and his clients have included the Ray Nagin administration.
Freedia has stated "I am not transgendered; I am just a gay male... I wear women's hair and carry a purse, but I am a man. I answer to either 'he' or 'she.'"
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