On Lady Antebellum Changing Their Name to “Lady A”

Adult contemporary country trio Lady Antebellum will no longer be known by the name they’ve toured and recorded music under for some 14 years. Announced on Thursday (6-11), they have decided to shorten their name simply to “Lady A.”

“As a band, we have strived for our music to be a refuge…inclusive of all,” the trio said in a statement. “We’ve watched and listened more than ever these last few weeks, and our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases Black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday. Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.⁣⁣⁣”

The issue some were taking with the band’s name is that it’s derived from the “Antebellum Era” in the American South when slavery was still legal. “Antebellum” is sort of an umbrella term for elements of culture that existed in Southern states after the American Revolution and before the Civil War, specifically pertaining to architecture, fashion, antiquities, etc.—namely the ornate finery of the era.

“When we set out together almost 14 years ago, we named our band after the southern ‘antebellum’ style home where we took our first photos,” their statement continues. “As musicians, it reminded us of all the music born in the south that influenced us…Southern Rock, Blues, R&B, Gospel and of course Country. But we are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before The Civil War, which includes slavery.”

To be fair, there is no direct link between the term “Antebellum” and the condoning or the endorsement of slavery. It’s more of a tangential relationship due to the time period it’s affiliated with. Nonetheless, the potential problematic nature of the name has been pointed out in the press in the past (including here at Saving Country Music). As one can imagine, the decision by the band to move on from the name has resulted in much heated debate, with many in the more progressive-minded constituency applauding the move, while others worried about the encroachment on First Amendment rights and an overreach of political correctness are criticizing the name change.

But people should not have a problem with this particular move, especially First Amendment advocates. Lady A was not being placed at a disadvantage due to their name, meaning their music wasn’t being excluded from radio, nor was their participation in festivals, tours, awards shows, or public events being restricted due to the name’s connotations like we’ve seen with Confederate Railroad and others. Lady A was not being “canceled.” Fair concerns were brought up to the band, and they listened, and made a decision.

Lady Antebellum made this move on their terms, for themselves, their fans, and the country music community to feel more comfortable moving forward. And why not err on the side of caution if you’re a band like Lady A? Let’s be honest, they don’t make country music, they make mom music. It’s meant to be inoffensive, soft, and wide reaching, and there’s no reason to impinge upon that with a name that some may draw less than favorable conclusions upon.

To be frank, I did the same thing. A few years back I changed my pen name from “The Triggerman” to “Trigger.” I wasn’t kowtowing to public pressure, it just seemed like a smart move to reduce drama and any unnecessary distractions. There has never been any reason to suspect Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, or Dave Haywood of Lady A of being racist or in any way racially insensitive, or that there was ever any racial motivation behind their name selection. It’s important to measure intent vs. interpretation, and also to understand that it’s not always fair to judge a previous decision by current viewpoints that are constantly being amended to modern norms and current events.

The one worry about the move by Lady A is the ever-present moving of the goalposts that we’re continuing to experience, which presents a slippery slope when it comes to where the lines are drawn between acceptable, questionable, and problematic, and how sometimes those decisions are not implemented with an even hand. Will the Dixie Chicks be next to be compelled into a name change? As one of the most progressive and politically-outspoken bands in country music history, nobody would ever question where the Dixie Chicks stand when it comes to racism. But arguably “Dixie” has just as much or more direct affiliation to the Confederacy as “Antebellum” does. Antebellum is a designation regularly referenced quite innocuously in home design for example, while to some, “Dixie” may immediately awaken visions of grey coats and Confederate flags. Yet there’s no discussion surrounding that group about a name change at the moment. Though arguably, there shouldn’t be. It’s just a name that draws upon notions of a time and place.

Declaring “Antebellum” or “Dixie” in a band name problematic opens up a Pandora’s box of dilemmas that can limit creative expression and overlook intent. The Band released the song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” in 1969, written by Canadian Robbie Robertson. The song romanticizes the Confederate South and references Confederate General Robert E. Lee—one of the central characters in the current debate upon the removal of Confederate statues. The song became a #3 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971 when the very politically-outspoken and left-leaning Joan Baez recorded it. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is often included in lists of the greatest songs of all time. Similar to the term “Antebellum,” Robbie Robertson was trying to tap into the romanticism surrounding an era, not sympathizing with slavery.

Recently HBO Max drew both criticism and praise for pulling the classic movie Gone With The Wind from their streaming library until the movie is marked with anti-slavery disclaimers. The fear is that the classic movie glorifies slavery and the Civil War. However no such claim is made against The Sopranos, for example, which depicts mafia life and murder. Traditionally art is given license to explore historical eras or elements or unsavory characters, assuming the audience understands the difference between depiction and glorification. Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has depicted both slave owners and Nazis in some of his more modern movies, and has been praised for those depictions.

In 1983, Johnny Cash released a song called “God Bless Robert E. Lee,” and also had a song called “Johnny Reb” that pays homage to Confederate soldiers. But nobody questions Johnny Cash’s standing as a humanitarian and anti-racist who was seminal to building bridges and fighting against racial injustices during the Civil Rights era and beyond.

The Democratic Party in America was the party of slavery, of Jim Crow laws, of segregation up until the mid 60’s and President Lyndon Johnson—much nearer history than the Antebellum South. Of course, nobody is out there advocating for the abolition of the Democrat Party, the renouncing of the name, and the tearing down of its leaders past and present. They understand that what the Democratic Party advocated for a long time ago is no longer relevant to today’s political landscape.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen The Lincoln Memorial vandalized by anti-racist mobs, as well as the defacing of memorials and landmarks dedicated to Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders. We’ve seen black protestors attempting to stop white rioters from damaging public property and private businesses. The individuals who took issue with Lady Antebellum’s name weren’t African Americans who were offended, it was affluent whites who feel the need to draw harder and harder lines against anything that can in any way be loosely defined as racist in the ever-consuming attempt to virtue signal their way out of feelings of guilt.

Of course we should be renouncing racism, and distancing from clearly racist symbols, words, and institutions. And in this exercise, it’s probably better to err on the side of caution when it comes to naming a band, or a street, or a building, or writing a song when the connotations could be considered offensive. This is what Lady A has done.

But if we go too far in the wrong direction of becoming so uptight and severe in judging interpretation as opposed to intent, or weigh these issues unevenly based on political bias, it can seriously impinge on not just creative freedom and freedom of expression, it risks having an adverse effect on the hearts and minds of the public, ginning up as much or more racism than it challenges due to the overreaching and hyper-sensitive nature of the moment.

Lady Antebellum made the right move for their band and their music during this contentious time in American history, and hopefully it will continue the discussion of what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to artistic expression and references to The South. But it needs to be a discussion, not an ultimatum, not succumbing to mob rule and cancel culture. And the discussion needs to be within the understanding that in art, reference or depiction is not always advocacy, and sometimes art need to be a little dangerous, or even offensive, to be effective. Remember, it was hot tempers and cancel culture that did in the Dixie Chicks. And that is a mistake country music should never want to make again.

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Now, if we could just get Lady A to stop referring to themselves as country….

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