In this episode of Into the Mix, Ashley C. Ford talks to Big Freedia, the performer who brought bounce music from the streets of New Orleans to the world. Join Freedia as she tells us how she got her start, how she faced personal tragedy — and how she’s continuing to show up for her community, using her platform to speak out against, and help reduce gun violence in New Orleans.
Read Episode 4 Full Transcript Below
NARR ASHLEY: Hi, I’m Ashley C Ford. And this is Into the Mix, a Ben & Jerry’s Podcast about joy and justice, produced with Vox Creative. Let’s get into it.
Theme music cues in.
BIG FREEDIA: I’m the queen of bounce. I represent for the culture of bounce music and New Orleans. I’m Big Freedia, the Queen Diva [Ashley laughs], you best a believe-ah.
ASHLEY: What pronouns do you use?
BIG FREEDIA: I use both, he or she. I could answer to both, because I know who I am.
A jazzy beat of drums and trumpets cues in.
NARR ASHLEY: Big Freedia is a bounce music icon, and a champion for New Orleans culture and cuisine. I’m talking charbroiled oysters, fried ribs, beignets…
Music fades out.
BIG FREEDIA: I’m going to get them char-grilled oysters, baby. [Fades out behind Ashley] I need me a little piece of fried chicken with a little cornbread and a little red beans on the side, a little collard greens, a little cabbage…
NARR ASHLEY: She’s seen the city through the highs of festival season and lows of Katrina and the storm’s devastating impact.
But New Orleans isn’t just defined by its food and its location along the gulf coast amidst concerns about climate change. New Orleans is also an epicenter of culture and of sound. From tap dancers with homemade tap shoes in the French Quarter, to big brass and high school bands throughout the popular parade routes, music is alive and a heartbeat of this historic city.
Your city probably has its own sounds too. I know that despite some of our bad PR in Indiana, Indianapolis has some of the best, smoothest jazz you can find on a Friday or Saturday night.
But in the Big Easy, sound is a part of that city’s history. It connects past, present, and future. Whether it’s the iconic second line, the church call and response, or the first drop in that bounce record you love.
And when I say Freedia’s voice is one such iconic sound in the fabric of New Orleans? It’s really not an overstatement. That bold voice grew up on a street called Josephine in New Orleans’ 3rd Ward.
A melody of piano, trumpets and drums cues in.
BIG FREEDIA: Well, that’s where I started at in music, you know, at an early age. And I wind up joining the choir. It was my safe haven to get out of the hood of New Orleans and off of Josephine Street.
ASHLEY: So what was your church and church choir like, because I know you have that background.
BIG FREEDIA: That’s where I kind of started with the gospel music.
I’ve had moments where the pastor would have to preach on the topics that he had to preach on that, that talk about homosexuality and so forth.
But even in those times, my choir director will will come right after the sermon and, and reassure me that God loves us all, you know, and put her arms around me and hug me, and, you know,
So they nourished me and they protected me. And they were my support system, um, through it all.
ASHLEY: And they knew that song was your blessing. If they didn’t know, it seems like they found out real quick.
BIG FREEDIA: Oh yeah. They did. [Ashley laughs.]
ASHLEY: What were you singing?
BIG FREEDIA: Anything. I would just hit a note coming around the corner. When I was going to my auntie house on Jackson Avenue, we will alarm her that I was coming. I would just go whoaaaaa, like from way around the corner. And she knew that, that her nephew was on the way. She said, boy, I heard yo ass way around the corner. I know you did girl, that was my bird call to let you know I’m coming.
So I used the voice for so many different things. You know, at the time, um, I will be in the club going through the crowd, right on top of the music.
Over the whole music. Everybody know, that’s Freddy in the club, you know. So that was my signature calling in New Orleans. And it kind of transferred over to a bounce music and, um, I kept the call.
“3rd Ward Bounce” song cues in.
ASHLEY NARR: That call, and the courage to use it, transformed not only Big Freedia’s world—it continues to elevate the genre of bounce music, bringing the sounds and rhythms to a newer audience. When the beat drops, and Freedia’s call hits, the combination is legendary. And I don’t use the word legendary lightly here: Big Freedia is an essential figure in bounce music. Her undeniable voice can show up when you least expect it, like in Beyoncé’s Formation, which I, sure you’ve heard and already know.
Light jazz notes, piano and cymbals cue in.
ASHLEY: I feel like even though there is a long history of bounce music there in New Orleans, you are a bridge to that music for so many people around the world. [FREEDIA: Yes ma’am.] Talk to me about NOLA bounce music.
BIG FREEDIA: Well, you know, the first thing how I defined bounce music, it’s uptempo, it’s heavy base, it’s call and response type music, it’s ass-shaking music from New Orleans, it was the underground hip hop thing that was, you know, in New Orleans for so long.
ASHLEY: So I have to imagine that some of your first encounters with bounce music were absolutely like, I mean–
BIG FREEDIA: Oh my god. Unbelievable.
NARR ASHLEY: New Orleans may be a big city, but it’s a very small community. Even the local hometown celebs had day jobs.
BIG FREEDIA: DJ Jubilee worked at my high school, so, you know, it was crazy that like the king of bounce works at my high school, so we get firsthand to see it, hear it, you know, see him every day.
And um, those moments were, were epic moments, that’s, when I was learning about bounce music, learning the sound. I would be upside down, flipped in the gym when it came time to the school dances. Me and all the girls twerking on the floor.
And I’m the girl responsible for making it, you know, get out to the world even further. There were many that came before me and there will be many that will come after me. Like you say, I am the bridge that helped to, to put the flavor out more into the world.
But also just to put it into a format that was acceptable cause they always look at it as profane or ratchet or very vulgar and I polished it up. I gave them still me, or authentic New Orleans, but I also learned how to put a little polish on it, just so that we can get it more into the mainstream, just so that everybody can love it and everybody can do it and enjoy the dancing. And that’s what, that’s what bounce music is. It’s a great big New Orleans party.
ASHLEY: In my experience, New Orleans is a place that is great at celebrating the self.
BIG FREEDIA: It is.
So that’s what it’s about for me having a good time, bringing the party of New Orleans all around the world.
ASHLEY: The celebration of life isn’t just in the streets, in New Orleans. It’s like in y’all’s blood. Like…
BIG FREEDIA: It is.
ASHLEY: Okay, I have to ask this though. Do you have a sweet tooth?
BIG FREEDIA: Oh baby pecan pie, coconut pie, sweet potato pie. Um, lemon pie, lemon cake, chocolate cake, yellow cake with chocolate icing. Oh babe, I eats it all.
NARR ASHLEY: And of course, there’s beignets – dough and powdered sugar. Mm.
ASHLEY: Oh my God. Okay. So tell me how much pride did you get in seeing Bouncing Beignets? Seeing people eating it, seeing people raving about it? I mean, because I know, you know, I know, you know, what tastes good. I know, you wasn’t about to put anything out that didn’t represent the city right.
BIG FREEDIA: OK, so… Girl! I don’t know, girl, I don’t even know how to answer [Fades out behind Ashley] this right now because, it’s um… she was like, oh, that’s interesting… when we everybody…
NARR ASHLEY: Back in 2019, Big Freedia had an idea for an ice cream flavor. Vanilla ice cream. Caramel. And, of course, a beignet. [Fades back into Freedia still takling from above]
BIG FREEDIA: Like, so how we did this was, me and my publicist, we, we thought of the idea. I say, I want to do our ice cream. So, one day, I was just like, you know what? We had made the carton that it comes in. We put my face on it, we put the flavor on it and everything, and we just put it on Instagram. I said, “Tag Ben and Jerry!”
ASHLEY: Ben & Jerry’s noticed and got in touch.
BIG FREEDIA: So you know me and Ben and Jerry collaborated on presenting the ice cream and, and doing all of that. And I was very blessed to be able to have their support and also helping with, you know, some of the non-profit things that I do here in New Orleans to provide a better lifestyle for the children of New Orleans.
NARR ASHLEY: Ben & Jerry’s created the ice cream flavor and gave people a taste of it at one of Freedia’s favorite NOLA nightclubs. Unfortunately for us, it was a one-time thing.
But they used this opportunity to let people know about No Kid Hungry, a local non-profit that feeds kids in New Orleans.
Big Freedia shows up for her community. And Ben & Jerry’s stands up for their values, too. So yeah, it made sense for them to find one another. And to do it in a way that is both education and celebration. For a purpose.
BIG FREEDIA: You have to celebrate life every moment that you get and every day that you get. Because so many of our kids, we are losing them through so many different other things.
NARR ASHLEY: When she says that we’re losing people through so many different things, she’s talking about gun violence. The homicide rate in New Orleans is one of the highest in the country, and has been for decades. Most of the people lost—90 percent—were killed by firearms.
After the break, we’ll talk about what Big Freedia is doing about it.
A mix of piano chords, a bass beats, and cymbals cues in.
BIG FREEDIA: Adam, he was Aquarius just like me. He was outspoken. He was, he was a bunch of joy, you know, he also, um, knew how to speak his mind.
NARR ASHLEY: In 2018, Big Freedia lost her brother Adam after he was shot and killed. And Freedia is a survivor of gun violence herself. The bullet that struck her in a random shooting in 2004 is still lodged in her arm.
BIG FREEDIA: I still fight with it everyday because the bullet is still in my arm. You know, I thank God every day though, I’m able to still tell my story and, and still be here and to still live my life.
NARR ASHLEY: Gun violence is a problem in this country—an epidemic. It’s a problem in New Orleans that has touched a lot of families. In 2021 the city of New Orleans saw 218 homicides, the first time since 2007 that the city recorded over 200 murders. The problems feel deep-rooted for Freedia, and serve as a personal reminder that every loss was felt by someone else.
BIG FREEDIA: He was my brother and I miss him dearly.
We were very close growing up, you know, just us three growing up, him and my sister’s a year apart, I’m the oldest. So I watched him from a baby coming into this world until, you know, so it, I was the, the first babysitter, you know, for them after mama.
ASHLEY: One of the things that I love about being an oldest sibling is that you really set the tone, um, for the sibling culture in your family.
Were you together when the Katrina storm happened?
BIG FREEDIA: When the storm hit, we were all at my house.
And when we got around the Superdome, Adam went one way. I went one way. We said, we coming back in 10 minutes. We never saw Adam come back. And Adam had done went with his friends, honey and went, you know. Next thing I know Adam was in Texas working and doing all kinds of stuff. I’m like, boy, what the hell? [ASHLEY LAUGHS] Where did you go? You know…
ASHLEY: That’s some, that’s some young sibling stuff.
It’s wild when you’re an oldest sibling, how much their lives affect you.
BIG FREEDIA: Most definitely.
Music transition with hands clapping and light piano chords.
NARR ASHLEY: After Adam died, Freedia found that creating helped her process and grieve. She wanted to use her platform to raise awareness about gun violence. So she made a documentary. Freedia Got a Gun is about her personal mission to end gun violence in New Orleans.
BIG FREEDIA: I wanted to do something to not just, to help me through my process, but to help other families through their process. And how can we help the children of New Orleans who have to go through these, these things that they’re going through? And, you know, they’re seeing their older brother, their older cousin, you know, their older friend, the boys in the neighborhood carrying guns. How can we fix this problem? How can we get the guns off the streets of New Orleans?
How can we save our Black young men from this problem that has been going on for decade after decade?
ASHLEY: What kind of things can we do? What do you think the kids in NOLA specifically, when you think about what’s gonna keep them off the streets, what’s gonna help them lead the lives that you and I know that they’re more than capable of, how do we do that? How do we make sure they just get what they need?
BIG FREEDIA: The most important thing is us coming together as a community. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes even more people to help protect all of these children that we keep on losing. And, um, it’s important that we, you know, support, a support system. Every kid needs a support system. They need somebody they can run to, somebody that can tell them yay and nay, somebody that can tell them when they’re right and wrong, somebody they can cry to and laugh with.
They need all of that.
Musical cue comes in.
NARR ASHLEY: In her own life growing up on Josephine Street, Freedia saw the seasons change, the neighbors come and go. Eventually she saw her beloved city of New Orleans go through its own transitions, for better and for worse. All of that change made her think about the role of elders. The stewards of our communities.
BIG FREEDIA: I couldn’t go a block away without somebody saying, boy, you better not do that. I’m gonna call your mama.
ASHLEY: [Laughs] And they would.
BIG FREEDIA: And they would, right while you right there.
BIG FREEDIA: So much of the old rules have changed because we losing so many grandmothers and mamas that has been raised old school, you know, in a lot of times right now it’s kids raising kids, without any guidance. We need guidance in order to save our kids. And the community is the only one that can do that.
ASHLEY: When you have that kind of, that, that mothering instinct that, when you are that mother figure, you’re a mother for so many people. [Freedia: Yes] Um, and for people who I know you care about deeply, people who, it don’t matter, blood, not blood, [Freedia: Yeah, I go hard] it’s like you’re my family, because I chose you. [Freedia: Yeah] It has to be devastating to lose people to something as senseless as gun violence.
REPORTER FROM ARCHIVAL NEWS FOOTAGE: New Orleans police are investigating at least a dozen shootings. And so far, no suspects have been named. And those shootings claimed the lives of six people.
BIG FREEDIA: Oh my God. It’s it’s, it’s unbelievable. You know, it takes, it takes so much from you and so much out of you when you see people that you love be hurt, you know, for nonsense. And it’d be the simplest things.
ASHLEY: And I know that, When Adam passed it changed the way you used your platform and what you decided to focus on, um, [Freedia: Oh yeah.] organizations that come from people who know the area, who love their area, who love the people from the area and who want to see them get exactly what they need, not just what they think they ought to get.
BIG FREEDIA: Yeah. And that’s what it’s about. We need more people who grew up in the community, know the struggle. If you haven’t grew up in the hood, you don’t know how to handle the hood. You have to have somebody on the inside of the hood to help you bring the hood together.
The song “ES_Plump” cues in, licensed form Epidemic Sound.
NARR ASHLEY: The work Big Freedia and her organization does is focused on improving community outcomes across New Orleans. From working with the State of Louisiana on Covid awareness, to partnerships with Upturn Arts around arts education, Bounce Up collaborates with these and others, to help kids in her city.
Freedia is investing in her community. Unfortunately, not all cities can rely on their federal or local governments to invest in a similar way. Let’s not even talk about the money we are pumping into policing right now that could be going elsewhere. Critical community resources, like the ones Freedia actively supports, are often going underfunded. And it’s not okay. So Freedia steps up.
And that kind of effort and energy would take a lot out of anyone. It’s important to take care of yourself. To make sure your spirit is cared for.
Wanna know how Freedia does it?
BIG FREEDIA: Praying and push, baby, you got to pray and you got to keep on pushing. If you’re not healthy, you can’t do nothing, for you or for nobody.
ASHLEY: Because you can’t pour from an empty cup. I know that for sure.
BIG FREEDIA: You can’t.
And that’s what I use. I just use, you know, my vision, uh, of, of what I see and what I can do to help improve what’s around me.
ASHLEY: That sounds like New Orleans.
This sounds to me like you’re a mother and a fairy godmother. It sounds to me like there are people who are benefiting from Big Freedia just being around and they don’t even know where it’s coming from.
BIG FREEDIA: Oh yeah. I mean, that’s why they call me the queen diva, baby, queen diva. [Ashley laughs: I love it.] Queen diva fairy godmother.
Electronic music with a jazzy beat cues in.
ASHLEY: For Big Freedia, community is at the center of what she does to impact change. The message she shares is through music and showing up to help support causes that make a difference for young people, including getting guns off the streets of New Orleans. Caring starts block by block. Making real change that can help improve not only your own life, but your neighbors’ lives as well.
Like Big Freedia, Ben & Jerry’s knows that investment in critical community resources is key to thriving and healthy communities. Ben & Jerry’s has been working to help transform public safety in this country— by dismantling highly-ineffective and violent policing practices, and working to replace them with stronger investments in areas that include inclusive education, healthcare, counseling and job training. Centering the Black lives as well as the communities that have been disproportionately the most impacted.
Want to learn more and take action to bring some more justice, equity, and joy into people’s lives? Go to action.benjerry.com/change.
Into the Mix is a Ben & Jerry’s Podcast produced by Vox Creative and ABF Creative.
The Vox Creative team includes Executive Producer Annu Subramanian, Lead Producer Jessica Glazer, Production Coordinator Veronica Guity and Production Manager Taylor Henry. The team also includes associate director of client success, Ryan Phelan and additional assistance from Gaby Grossman.
The team from ABF Creative includes Head of Production Wanda Reynolds, Executive Producer Anthony Frasier and Producer Mike Bisceglia. This episode was written by Ken Miles with help from Gary Swaby. Sound design, mixing and mastering by Chris Mann, assisted by Jean-Claude Canal. Original music by Israel Tutson. Fact checking by Girl Friday Productions.
The Ben & Jerry’s team includes Jay Tandon, Jay Curley, Emily D’Alessandro and Chris Miller.
Special thanks to WWLTV.
I’m Ashley C. Ford. Thank you for listening.