The Lady A Name Change Is Officially a $hit Show

photo: Dove Shore

Lady A started by changing their name to erase what some considered the racist connotations of “Antebellum” and to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Now that action has resulted in them publicly suing a well-respected black member of the music community and receiving a massive backlash for it. Maybe they should have just left well enough alone.

Lady A officially changed their name on June 11th. But this apparent good deed towards the Black Lives Matter movement didn’t go unpunished for long. A Seattle based R&B singer also named Lady A (real name Anita White) came out the next day angry that her name had been co-opted without any regard or communication from the pop country trio. She had been performing under the name for roughly 20 years.

“This is my life. Lady A is my brand, I’ve used it for over 20 years, and I’m proud of what I’ve done…. They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die for them to realize that their name had a slave reference to it.”

The term “Antebellum” is derived from the “Antebellum Era” in the American South when slavery was still legal. “Antebellum” is an umbrella term for elements of culture that existed in Southern states after the American Revolution, but before the Civil War. The term often pertains to architecture, fashion, antiquities, and the like—namely the ornate finery of the era. Lady A chose the name after taking their original band photos in front of an antebellum-style house.

Just a few weeks ago, everything seemed to be hunky dory on the Lady A name change front. After the band participated in a Zoom call with the other Lady A, Anita White, they said, “Today, we connected privately with the artist Lady A. Transparent, honest, and authentic conversations were had. We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground. The hurt is turning into hope. More to come.”

However we didn’t hear anything more about the situation, until Wednesday (7/8) when the country Lady A announced they are preemptively suing the R&B Lady A after negotiations broke down on how to move forward with both artists using the Lady A name. According to country Lady A, R&B Lady A wanted $10 million to relinquish her claims to the name.

Here’s is Lady Antebellum’s statement:

Today we are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended. She and her team have demanded a $10 million payment, so reluctantly we have come to the conclusion that we need to ask a court to affirm our right to continue to use the name Lady A, a trademark we have held for many years. It was a stirring in our hearts and reflection on our own blindspots that led us to announce a few weeks ago that we were dropping the word ‘Antebellum’ from our name and moving forward using only the name so many of our fans already knew us by. When we learned that Ms. White had also been performing under the name Lady A, we had heartfelt discussions with her about how we can all come together and make something special and beautiful out of this moment. We never even entertained the idea that she shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will – today’s action doesn’t change that. Instead, we shared our stories, listened to each other, prayed and spent hours on the phone and text writing a song about this experience together. We felt we had been brought together for a reason and saw this as living out the calling that brought us to make this change in the first place. We’re disappointed that we won’t be able to work together with Anita for that greater purpose. We’re still committed to educating ourselves, our children and doing our part to fight for the racial justice so desperately needed in our country and around the world. We’ve only taken the first small steps and will prioritize racial equality as a key pillar of the work of LadyAID, specifically leaning into supporting and empowering our youth. We hope Anita and the advisers she is now listening to will change their minds about their approach. We can do so much more together than in this dispute.

According to their suit, Lady A do have legal claim to the “Lady A” name that precede the official name change. The band applied to register “Lady A” specifically (not just Lady Antebellum) in May of 2010. After there was no opposition filed by any person or entity, the application was officially registered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on July 26, 2011. Further applications to register the name for musical recordings and merchandise were also granted with no opposition. Anita White never challenged the Lady A name until the band officially shortened their name to it.

The band has also apparently been making good faith efforts to resolve this issue with Anita White in a way that could elevate her music and career moving forward as opposed to overshadowing her. But according to Anita White, Lady A’s concessions were not satisfactory. “Their camp is trying to erase me,” White claimed to Newsday on June 16th. Feeling like Anita White would likely sue them, the band chose to take the preemptive step to sue her first.

“White’s demand for an exorbitant payment in exchange for continued coexistence, notwithstanding the previous absence of discussion of any payment (other than reimbursement of nominal attorneys’ fees), gives rise to imminent controversy, demonstrating a course of action from which a threat of suit could be inferred based on White’s charge of infringement,” the lawsuit says.

Country Lady A is not asking for any money. They just want the ability to use the name freely.

But the optics are terrible here, especially for the former Lady Antebellum, but really for both Lady A’s. Does Anita White really believe that sharing a name with a country band is worth $10 million, as is accused in the lawsuit? And does Lady A really think that suing a black woman over trying to change your name from a potentially racially-insensitive term is the way to get on the right side of this issue?

This feels like a classic matter where lawyers on both sides got involved, started seeing dollar signs, and they will be the ones who will make out like bandits as the two parties get dragged through litigation. So much for good faith. From a legal perspective, not much time has passed in this matter. Often such negotiations and legal briefings take months to hammer out, if not longer. The Lady A trio going on the offense might be the best legal move, but it’s an absolutely terrible move from a publicity standpoint.

But a lot of the anger flowing towards the former Lady Antebellum over this issue is missing the forest for the trees, fueled once again by misleading headlines, and the mob not checking or reading the details. Lady Antebellum was trying to do the right thing with the name change. The law of unintended consequences whiplashed back around on them and has now smacked them in the back of the head ten fold. But if the upshot of this is “give into the politically correct crowd, and this is what you get,” then what will be the incentive for others to make similar good faith moves? The lesson will be to avoid the whole mess entirely.

Songwriter and producer Shane McAnally said it best. “I urge everyone to actually READ [the] article. I’m disappointed in the headline that ⁦Billboard⁩ and other news outlets are using as click bait, when the article clearly states that the band is only responding to a 10M $ extortion demand.”

Once again the online mob—especially on Twitter—is reacting to a drive-by, 260-character notion of the story instead of the actual situation with all the details. The $10 million demand by Anita White and her lawyers is ludicrous and completely unfounded, especially if as the lawsuit claims, Lady Antebellum has owned the “Lady A” trademark for a decade without dispute. The Anita White team was betting that public ignorance on the matter and the negative perception of a white group suing a black woman would twist the arm of Lady Antebellum and resort in an exorbitant payment.

All this name change has done has brought negative attention to Lady Antebellum, and country music. They were not responding to some fierce backlash about their name when they made the change. The concern was a murmur at best. It’s questionable if “Antebellum” was problematic in the first place. They were trying to be forward thinking, understanding, and pragmatic. Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood of Lady A are not racists. Clueless, innocent, and sheltered maybe. But perfectly harmless and fluffy. But that is not how they’ve been portrayed in the matter.

“In this [country] industry, the air is so thick and putrid with racism, both current and residual, that everyone is awash in it, their eyes so caked with hate that they’ve been glued shut,” is one stanza from when Vulture first address the Lady A name change. Yes, this is how the media outside country music perceive this situation involving the dulcet and sanguine Lady A. Before this matter, most of the people calling for their heads now didn’t even know who the hell Lady Antebellum was. Now they’re the avatars of oppression, only because it’s what is filling people’s Twitter feeds.

Lady Antebellum has made plenty of stupid moves in this situation, including not checking for or with other artists that may have been named “Lady A” before enacting the change. But the lesson many may and arguably should take from this is to not give into the demand mob in the first place. You think they will stop with your name? This has to do with setting ultimatums demanding compliance, with your utter destruction as the consequence if those ultimatums are not met, enforced by the cancel mob.

Meanwhile, focusing on names when actual actions that demean and downgrade black performers in country like when The Highwomen disinvited Mickey Guyton from a video shoot last minute go unreported. This shows that the PC mob and much of the media is all about symbolism, and is using this moment to enact political retribution on artists that they believe don’t fit their ideals as opposed to actually addressing race in country music.

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