From Buddy Bolden to Big Freedia
By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor
An an annual basis, the Long Beach Pride festival provides fertile ground, inspiration and a stage from which to mine cultural gems and draw connections to rediscovered history. At least that what it does for me. This year is no different due to trends beyond Long Beach Pride.
This year’s Pride festival’s main stage featuring Bounce music pioneer Big Freedia and top 14 American Idol finalist Ada Vox, has me thinking about how songs become standards.
A standard is defined as a musical composition of established popularity that has come to be considered part of the “standard repertoire” of one or more genres. Standards are often quoted by other works and serve as the basis for musical improvisation.
But music travels, and the places it inhabits are places where boundaries are fluid, if not osmotic. Boundaries in these spaces — whether it’s racial, sexual preferences or gender identification — are rendered mute. Hip hop, like jazz and the blues flourishes in this space. Although I’d argue that hip hop is more opportunistic than either the blues or jazz. Hip hop will take from and co-opt just about anything anywhere to build its vocabulary to describe and expand its urban environment.
Bounce music is a southern subgenre of hip hop that’s been around since the early 1990s. Big Freedia had been doing it for nearly as long with bangers such as Rock Around the Clock and Gin ‘N My System. Freedia took the entire refrain of Bill Haley and His Comets Rock Around the Clock and remixed it into a uniquely New Orleans modern dance music.
Bounce is call-and-response booty-shaking music. It’s aggressive. It’s raw. It’s sexual. It developed as a defiantly underground scene with mostly gay rappers spitting over sampled beats. New Orleans producer Manny Fresh called Bounce music the essence of hip hop.
“It would be like rebirth of hip hop, because it’s really just raw beats and response,” said Fresh.
Big Freedia began her ascension after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. She played six to ten shows a week at block parties, nightclubs, strip clubs, and other venues while the city recuperated. The first place she played was Caesars.
“They called me immediately and said let’s do a regular night with you here. So we started FEMA Fridays,” Freedia is quoted as saying in the New Orleans Picayune. Freedia went on to say “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.”
Freedia’s story reminded me of an earlier New Orleans musical pioneer: Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden, a virtuoso cornet player who jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton have said influenced them.
Bolden, like Big Freedia, was raised on the edge of Storyville, New Orleans’ red light district that was a tourist attraction at the turn of the 20th Century. This area of black New Orleans was once called “back-of-town” and this part of the Third Ward was also home to jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, and rappers Master P, Silkk The Shocker, Juvenile and Birdman, among others.
Many of Bolden’s contemporaries first heard him on the third story of the Oddfellows Masonic Ballroom, that’s where George Baquet, a Creole clarinettist who played alongside Bolden recalled hearing Bolden in this building, saying he played in a rough atmosphere.
Baquet is quoted as saying it was so rough that no one ever took their hats off, in case they had to get out in a hurry. He said Bolden, would stick his horn out the window and do what he called “calling his children home.” When he played, everyone would come out of the halls to hear him.
Storyville was established by municipal ordinance under the New Orleans City Council, to regulate prostitution and drugs. Sidney Story, a city alderman, wrote guidelines and legislation to control prostitution within the city. The ordinance designated a thirty-eight block area as the part of the city in which prostitution was tolerated or regulated. With the city’s growth and increased prosperity in an environment of regulated vice, the city was accompanied by an increase in violence, victimization and crime.
I found a study published in the The Journal of American History, that said in 1920s New Orleans, law enforcement was only able to secure convictions in 14 percent of homicides. In the article, entitled Less Crime, More Punishment: Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice in Early Twentieth-Century America, the author, Jeffrey Adler, noted that during the early 1920s, jurors acquitted roughly half of all felony defendants, yet this accounted for less than one-tenth of the cases that ended without a conviction. Adler also found that in 1920s New Orleans, African Americans were two-thirds of homicide victims, 86 percent of whom died at the hands of other African Americans. Yet, prosecutors secured convictions in only 6 percent of African American intraracial homicide cases.
This is the black experience in urban America. And though the ways sexuality and gender identity were bent during this period are largely hidden, I’m absolutely certain that it all existed side-by-side with the straight, binary code of existence.
American Idol has been airing for 17 seasons, featuring the creme de la creme of vocalists who have the talent, skill and versatility to sing pop standards from the 1940s to the present. Ada Vox is the first to do it in drag. Vox, by day is usually Adam Sanders, a young man from Houston, Texas whose vocal ranges register high enough to sound like a soprano. He caught everyone’s attention with his rendition of Radiohead’s Creep and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. Although he didn’t make it into the final ten, Vox has been able to use his talents to seize the zeitgeist spurring his stardom on.
Although Ada Vox and Big Freedia are headlining the Nissan stage, the Pride Festival is chock full of artists, performers and deejays including Whitney Mixer, Mishelle, Sabrina La’Blanc, Carletta Couture, Aina Brei’Yon and a bunch of hot boy and hot girl dancers who are there to just turn that whole party out.
Long Beach Pride Festival
Time: May 18 to 19
Venue: Marina Green Park, 386 E, Shoreline Dr. at the intersection of Pine Ave. and Shoreline Dr., Long Beach