A part of Charlotte Pride’s iconic celebration is the festival’s performers, including its star-studded headliners. This year, Charlotte Pride will be welcoming Grammy award winning artist Big Freedia to the stage. She will take the stage at 8 p.m. on August 19, bringing her own style of bounce music to the Queen City.
Here is what you should know about Big Freedia, her music and her impact in the LGBTQ+ community:
Who is Big Freedia?
Big Freedia, birth name Freddie Ross, was born on January 28, 1978, in New Orleans. He grew up on Josephine Street and was raised by his stepfather and mother, who introduced Ross to music through artists like Patti LaBelle. He was also influenced by other performers like Sylvester, Michael Jackson and Salt-N-Pepa.
Ross sang in his church’s choir growing up, as well as served as the choir director at Walter L. Cohen High School, where he learned he could produce and write his own music. However, choral music wasn’t where Ross found his sound: it was in the club scene in New Orleans.
A young drag queen named Katey Red often performed “bounce music” — a New Orleans-born style of rap — at a club down the street from where Ross lived, and he eventually became a background performer for Red. It was during this time he came up with the stage name of “Big Freedia Queen Diva,” and has never looked back.
“I wanted a catchy name that rhymed, and my mother had a club called Diva that I worked for,” he explained to Play Jones News. “I called myself the queen of diva—so I coined it: Big Freedia Queen Diva.”
Her career so far
Freedia — who uses she/her/hers pronouns when performing — released her first recording in 1999 titled “An Ha, Oh Yeah.” A few years later in 2003, she released one of her most-known tracks, “Gin ‘N My System,” which would later be quoted by Lil Wayne and Lil Boosie. “Gin ‘N My System” made Complex Magazine’s list of the 50 best New Orleans rap songs of all time, and it was followed by the release of her next studio album, “Queen Diva.”
After Hurricane Katrina, Freedia returned to Crescent City and rose to be one of the highest in demand artists.
“People wanted me to bring a sense of home to all of the different places that people were displaced at,” she recalled to Billboard. “People were really into the music and were like, ‘What kind of music is that? Oh my god, I like that music, teach me how to bounce!’ And so it just really got all over after Katrina.”
According to a report from Music Rising at Tulane, Freedia became nationally known after her performance at the 2009 Voodoo Festival and shortly after, she toured with her then-manager and DJ, Rusty Lazer, and the pop band, Matt and Kim.
After she was featured in a New York Times feature story on bounce music, Freedia’s career skyrocketed — she appeared on two episodes of HBO’s Treme (as herself), released the first volume of her Greatest Hits, signed to a new label and appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in 2011.
Since then, it’s been a whirlwind for the New Orleans native. In recent years, she has appeared on tracks from Drake and Beyonce, including two Grammy award winning songs. She has hosted the Met Gala IG Live Red Carpet and 2021’s “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” TV celebration.
Early in her career, Freedia had to come to terms with the homophobic nature of the music industry. She explained to Billboard that it was different than how it is today, and she often had to battle negative, stereotypical perceptions.
“We weren’t treated equally, being that we were gay,” Freedia said. “We were working for chump change. Over time, things started to change, but in the beginning, it was not so easy. It was not so accepting. People were in shock that they had these gay artists out in New Orleans doing bounce music and making the girls shake all over.”
It was because of that battle to overcome bigotry that Freedia found the voice to become an advocate for her community. Freedia has participated in several philanthropic events, including a recent partnership with JAMNOLA — New Orleans’ first experimental museum — during Pride month to raise funds and awareness for PFLAG New Orleans (PFLAGNO), a volunteer-led nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ families in the Southeastern Louisiana.
She said she wants to use her platform as a positive space for LGBTQ+ persons, whether she’s in New Orleans, Charlotte or elsewhere and through her music or work with various organizations.
“I see myself as a little beacon of light that comes from the struggle,” she said to Billboard. “People can see my story and know my story, and know that through hard work and determination, anything is possible … I’m steadily knocking down doors and breaking down barriers.”