By Jack Blitz
NEW ORLEANS – It’s Wednesday, noon, and the New Orleans sun casts down over the Willow Street PJ’s Coffee Shop on Tulane’s campus. Amidst the hustle and bustle of students and professors, the familiar energetic sound of Valerie Sassyfras’ accordion greets those that stop by for coffee and lunch. Ain’t no place like this place for livin’ and dyin’… it’s so hard not to love the Big Easy. Lyrics like this one embody Sassyfras’ free-spirited and fearless performances that have bestowed her with local notoriety and, more recently, national attention.
Back on April 11th, 2018, everything started as a normal day in the life of Valerie Sassyfras, but when 4:00 PM hit and NBC’s The Ellen Show went on the air, a part of her would never be the same again. What began as an innocent video posted to Instagram of Sassyfras performing her popular song, Girls Night Out, ended up finding its way to Ellen’s producers and was subsequently featured on the show. In what Sassyfras described as “an intervention from God that Ellen saw it” had other producers over at NBC thinking. Before she knew it, she was getting calls from the hit reality talent show, NBC’s America’s Got Talent (AGT), to compete. Over a year later, Sassyfras was filming season 14 of AGT (2019) and made it to the second round, titled The Judge Cuts, before being eliminated. With the end of America’s Got Talent season 14, Sassyfras has now returned to New Orleans with big ambitions for 2020.
When asked about The Ellen Show, Sassyfras considers it one of the most influential moments of her career. Once she went viral, Sassyfras said, “There were more people showing up at my gigs.” Despite all the attention and “rockstar treatment,” as Sassyfras calls it, her perspective about Los Angeles and showbusiness was not all positive. Sassyfras felt she was being looked at differently as a New Orleanian. “Sure, I think that,” she replies when asked about whether being from New Orleans presented her with a disadvantage. “LA looks at New Orleans like a Bourbon Street party town. That’s it.” Sassyfras felt she had less of an edge than more traditional artists.
Sassyfras also explained how AGT stripped her of her creative freedom. “AGT sets you up… they said they wanted my second performance to be a remix of my first, but after I performed, the judges said it was too similar and I was eliminated.” While she admits her act was not to her liking, Sassyfras was more disappointed with how the show’s producers determined what and how she was going to perform. Despite her dissatisfaction and the reality of the ratings game that is national television, Sassyfras still knows AGT was a special moment in her career. “I can say I was on AGT and that makes it worth it even if it wasn’t my song anymore, it was their song.”
Now that The Ellen Show and America’s Got Talent are behind her, Sassyfras is striving to reach a new community of fans and supporters through the creation of her very own YouTube show in 2020. Produced in the format of a late-night talk show, she hopes to write skits, comedy monologues, and conduct guest interviews throughout a series of 30-minute episodes. Citing many popular singers/songwriters who have risen to fame via YouTube, Sassyfras is aiming to replicate that model using her own Crescent City flavor. After finishing with the show, she also wants to use the new year to work on completing a new album.
As the name suggests, a Valerie Sassyfras concert will leave you immersed in upbeat music full of flair, passion, and, of course, plenty of sass. Her local New Orleans roots are eminent in her tunes, but it is her love for the art form and eccentric spirit that captivates fans searching for a little more youthfulness in their lives. As three-time NBA champion Dwayne Wade put it when he was guest-judging alongside his wife, Gabrielle Union, on NBC’s America’s Got Talent, “I believe that Ms. Sass is my wife’s spirit animal. You are what I see a lot of nights. That’s my wife.” This is the kind of energy Sassyfras hopes to bring in her upcoming YouTube show and album. It is this vibe that she thinks will allow her to continue to grow as an artist.
Beneath all the flamboyance and psychedelic themes, however, is a confident woman with a tremendously unique and inspiring backstory that radiates a sense of love, desire, and ambition. She attributes much of her passion for music to her late husband. She explains, “I was shy. I had no confidence. I never thought about this as a career until he came along. He also taught me about music theory.” While it is hard to imagine a reserved Valery Sassyfras today, she learned the ropes while performing with her husband in a five-piece Cajun and Zydeco band. It was his constructive criticism and willingness to push her that she treasures the most. “I didn’t know what love was until I met him. Then a light bulb went off and I realized this guy was putting up with my shit. He absolutely shaped me into the artist I am today.”
On New Orleans, Sassyfras says she feeds off of its culture. “It’s in the water and in the air!” Her musical journey has taken her down many paths and has spanned many decades, but New Orleans is at the root of it all. As she transitions into her new era with the new show and album, one thing is for sure… Valery Sassyfras will continue to inspire us all with her trademark flair and undeniable love for being her most liberated self as a performer.
To listen to Valerie Sassyfras or see her perform live, visit www.valeriesassyfras.com today.