Between the rise of twerking, New Orleans Bounce music and her own hit series here on Fuse, music icon Big Freedia's star has rocketed in the past three years. On the verge of becoming a household name, the New Orleans native just released a new autobiography, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!, written by Freedia with co-author Nicole Balin.
While Freedia's popular docuseries have covered the rapper-singer's recent personal and professional struggles and successes over three TV seasons (a fourth season premieres this fall), the Queen of Bounce has rarely talked about her childhood or early years in the New Orleans music scene. God Save the Queen Diva! lets Freedia tell her story on her terms.
Next month marks the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in American history and one of the nation's deadliest hurricanes on record. In 2005, Freedia and some of her family decided to stick it out and got trapped in the heart of the storm and its tragic aftermath. In this exclusive excerpt from her book, Freedia recounts the first terrifying night. Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva! is available now.
“You heard the news?” she asked.
“Yes, Momma,” I answered, stirring my roux. My mom had experienced Hurricane Betsy in 1965, a category 4 hurricane that devastated New Orleans. She was only five years old when it struck, but she and everyone who lived through it were traumatized.
“We need to get out of here,” she said.
“Shit don’t never happen,” I responded. For the last storm, I’d left town, and the only thing that had happened was my place got robbed. Plus, I had just gone to the grocery store and the gray clouds didn’t look any different from all the other times. There wasn’t even much growl to the thunder.
“Don’t be stupid!” she roared. “I’m going to Shreveport with Keith and you and Crystal and the baby better come, ya heard me?” Shreveport is in the northwestern corner of Louisiana, well inland from the Gulf of Mexico.
I sure wasn’t going to go to the country to stay with Keith.
“I’ll stock up on water and batteries and wait it out, like I always do,” I told her.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she yelled. “Baby, the mayor is ordering people to evacuate!”
Crystal, Adam, and the baby walked in just then. “Storm is coming,” I said and looked at them. “You wanna go with Mom and Keith or stay here?” Ms. V was mad as hell when I told her they wanted to stay with me.
“You kids don’t listen!” she hissed, and slammed down the phone.
Crystal unwrapped CeCe from her blanket and let her down onto the new white rug. Strands of curly hair were starting to pop out of her head. She pulled herself up with all her might and started to crawl down the hallway.
“Come here, CeCe,” I said. “Uncle Freddie wanna get a good look at you.” I lifted her up in front of my face and stared into her beautiful brown eyes. She smiled back at me.
“Light the candles,” I told Adam. Dinner was just about ready. Uncle Percy set four places with red paper plates and napkins on the dining table. I made my momma’s recipe for jambalaya and, baby, the second it hit my mouth it set off a whirlwind of spicy flavors so delicious that I temporarily forgot about the impending storm. “You made enough to feed an army,” Crystal said.
We kept the TV on through dinner. One of the last news reports to get through said if you haven’t left New Orleans yet, Mayor Ray Nagin wants you to stay put.
The sun was setting as I finished off the last cob of corn. A big gust of wind blew into the kitchen and through the dining room, knocking down the candles. I grabbed them and put them into the kitchen sink. Then, suddenly the kitchen window slammed shut and CeCe started to cry.
“It’s okay,” Crystal said, turning CeCe over on her belly and rubbing her back. I went through the house to close all the windows. When I got to the sunroom, I saw a squirrel run down the trunk of that great oak tree, looking for cover.
The storm hit at about eleven o’clock that night. Rain pounded down on the house. A few hours later, the wind started to howl like a freight train. The lights and TV went out. I had a couple of bars on my phone, so I turned it off to conserve juice. I lit some candles and helped put Crystal and the baby to bed. They stayed on the sofa bed in the living room. Adam slept on the floor.
I climbed into my bed, put the pillow over my head, and tried to sleep. As I stared at the ceiling, thinking of Hockey, I was suddenly and violently jolted up by an ear-piercing, crackling sound. Then the whole house shook. What the fuck? I thought. Then I heard Crystal scream. I ran down the hallway to the living room.
“Fuck!” Adam yelled. “Fuck!” The oak tree had fallen through our sunroom and damn near cut the living room roof in half, missing Crystal and the baby by only a few feet. Oh God, this wasn’t good. The wind was blowing into the living room and rain was coming down. It’s strange the details you remember in a panic, but I recall seeing the lamp fall over and the paper napkins on the coffee table blowing across the room. I looked over at CeCe. She was sound asleep in Crystal’s arms.
Uncle Percy came out in his robe. “Oh my God,” he said, looking stunned.
“The tree damn near killed Crystal and Adam!” I said as I fished around for a flashlight. For the rest of the night, we all huddled together in my room. It took hours, but I finally fell asleep to the sound of Crystal crying.
A few hours later an even louder thunderous boom, an explosion, sounded from outside in the distance. We all sat up. Do I dare go to the window and look out? I thought. Do I use my precious cell phone juice to call my mom or 911? I walked over to the window and saw nothing. We would later find out that it was a barge hitting the levee and breaking it. But at the time we had no idea and it just felt like the apocalypse that the pastor used to talk about in church.
“Everything is okay,” I said, trying to stay strong for them.
“I’m scared, Freddie,” said Crystal, cradling CeCe to her chest.
“God got us,” I said. Lord, Ms. V was right, but I kept that thought to myself.
The next morning, I woke up soaked in sweat. Except for the gigantic tree in our living room, everything seemed okay in the house. I would have laughed if I wasn’t so damn hot. I went outside onto the street. The air was so thick, even by New Orleans standards, that I patted my head with the end of my T-shirt. All the trees on Painter Street were toppled over. Power lines covered the road and sidewalks. A kid pedaled by me on his bike.
“Watch out for the power lines, baby,” I yelled, but he didn’t even turn back or respond. I went back into the apartment and sat with Uncle Percy in the kitchen. “The storm done passed,” he said.
“Thank God,” I said, hoping that there was some power so I could call a crew to come fix the roof. When I went to shut the window in the living room, I saw something I’d never seen in my life: water pouring down the streets, steadily rising higher and higher. Looked like the goddamn Mississippi River was coming our way.
“Ohhh myyyy Gawwwwd,” I said, drawing out each word. I could feel my shoulders tense up. “Come here, Percy,” I said, waving him over. “Where’s all this water coming from?” It wasn’t stopping!
“God have mercy,” he said, standing behind me. “The levees must have broke. That’s what the news was saying yesterday, child, that the levees weren’t strong enough.” Then I remembered hearing about these levees and how they were old and at risk to break, but I never did take it too seriously. Here in New Orleans, everything is always about to break.
From BIG FREEDIA: GOD SAVE THE QUEEN DIVA! by Big Freedia and Nicole Balin. Copyright © 2015 by Freddie Ross, Jr. Published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted by permission.