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For Lady Antebellum, rebranding to Lady A causes controversy

UPDATED: Thu., July 23, 2020

By Bill Forman For The Spokesman-Review

Actions speak louder than words, and earlier this month, Lady Antebellum proved it.

It all started out promisingly enough when the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum – two of the longest-running, and most problematically named acts in contemporary country music – rebranded themselves in response to the continuing Black Lives Matter protests.

For Lady Antebellum, the Nashville act that scored its best-known single “Need You Now” 11 years ago, their new chosen name was Lady A. They excitedly announced the decision on Instagram and were largely applauded for it.

It was an unexpected move for a band that had routinely dismissed critics who objected to their name’s controversial connotations, which was never a concern for the conservative country music industry that supported them.

Meanwhile, the Dixie Chicks dropped the Dixie and rechristened themselves the Chicks. Unlike Lady A, the Texas trio has had a contentious history with the country radio establishment dating back to 2003. Just days before the invasion of Iraq, singer Natalie Maines told a London audience that she and her bandmates were ashamed of George W. Bush being from their native Texas.

The comment didn’t go down well back in the States, where the Dixie Chicks were banned by corporate broadcast networks for the remainder of Bush’s six years in office.

In addition to announcing their change of name, the Dixie Chicks released a new song titled “March March,” which is accompanied by a music video that splices together footage of protests from the 60-year history of the civil rights movement.

It also lists the names of dozens of racial-violence victims, including George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.

But it didn’t take long before these two parallel storylines moved in diametrically opposite directions, with the Chicks doing everything right and Lady A doing everything as wrong as possible.

On July 8, just weeks after proclaiming their solidarity with the BLM movement, Lady A filed a lawsuit against a Black woman who has been recording and performing as Lady A for the past two decades.

Will the real Lady A please stand up?

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the two litigants.

Anita “Lady A” White is a relatively obscure artist based in Seattle. She began using her now-contested stage name years before Lady A released their first album.

Her repertoire leans heavily on the blues, a music that can be traced back to the songs that Black slaves sung while working in the Deep South.

Lady A is reportedly the second-richest country act in the world, with an estimated net worth of $47 million.

Antebellum is a reference to the slave-holding pre-Civil War South, and the musical tradition they come out of is overwhelmingly white.

Taken together, Lady Antebellum and Lady A are a textbook case of the imbalance of power in a country torn apart by racial and economic inequality.

The details of what happened after White approached the band are, at this point, sketchy. According to Lady Antebellum, a Zoom meeting was set up between the competing Lady A’s.

Afterward, the band once again took to Instagram, this time to announce the acts agreed to share the name and perhaps even collaborate.

But don’t count on it.

Whatever agreement may have been reached, it’s fallen through. White is now refusing to hand over the rights to use her name unless Lady Antebellum agrees to pay $5 million to her and another $5 million to BLM causes.

Lady Antebellum responded quickly. They filed a declaratory judgment lawsuit against White in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee asking the court to affirm the trio’s right to use the name.

After filing the suit, the band proceeded to break the news in a tear-stained statement:

“We are sad to share that our sincere hope to join together with Anita White in unity and common purpose has ended.”

What is a declaratory judgment suit? An attorney told Variety, the singer will now “have to prove that she didn’t just call herself Lady A 20 years ago but used it in billboards, ticket sales [and] other things connected with advertising.”

Already, Lady Antebellum’s appropriation of White’s stage name is making it very difficult to find her three albums and two EPs on streaming music services. That includes her new album “Lady A: Live in New Orleans,” which was released last week to coincide with her 62nd birthday.

Realizing that the evidence of her 20-year-long career was being erased, White responded on Instagram with a post that has since been taken down.

“How can you say Black Lives Matter and put your knee on the neck of another Black artist?” she asked.

“I’m not mad … I am however not giving up my name, my brand I worked hard for. #GodWillFightMyBattle #TheRealLadyA #LadyABluesSoulFunkGospelArtist #TheTruthIsLoud.”

Are Lady Antebellum racists? It depends on how you look at it.

When left-leaning pundits go on cable news, they frequently condemn President Trump’s actions as racist, an argument that can be difficult to refute.

But when asked the follow-up question – “Are you saying that Trump himself is a racist?” – few are willing to take their criticism that far.

This raises similar questions about Lady Antebellum. When the band first announced its decision on Instagram, there was little reason to question their motivations. But now that they’ve filed their lawsuit, their words ring hollow.

Still, there are glimmers of hope that Lady Antebellum won’t successfully cancel White’s career.

The hashtag #LadyAntiBLM is now starting to go viral.

Plus, there’s always the possibility that someone, somewhere, will send up a bat signal for K-Pop stans, who will help save the day by hijacking official band hashtags like #LadyAntebellum and #LadyA, just as they did with #WhiteLivesMatter, #WhiteOutWednesday and #MAGA.

Or maybe, just maybe, Lady Antebellum will take the reasonable path and change their name to something else.

But don’t hold your breath for the hitmakers of “Run to You,” “Bartender” and “Just a Kiss.”

In the meantime, if country radio really wants to shadowban somebody, which is the act of dropping artists from playlists instead of outright banning their music so as to avoid courting controversy, there’s always the newly rechristened Chicks.

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