Yesterday, Grammy-winning country trio Lady Antebellum announced that they were changing their name to Lady A. They intended for the rebranding to distance themselves from the so-called Antebellum South, which is the period in the US before the Civil War ended slavery. But it turns out that black blues singer Anita White has been performing under the name Lady A for more than twenty years.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, White said that neither the band nor their representatives reached out to her before making the change. “I’m not about to stop using my name.” she said. “For them to not even reach out is pure privilege. I’m not going to lay down and let this happen to me. But now the burden of proof is on me to prove that my name is in fact mine, and I don’t even know how much I’ll have to spend to keep it.”
White is 61 years old, and has been using the name Lady A since the 1980s. She has three albums on streaming services, and is gearing up to release another: Lady A: Live in New Orleans, due out on her birthday of July 18th. Rolling Stone apparently found her through her Spotify profile. In conversation, she was quick to point out the hypocrisy in Lady Antebellum’s gesture of white allyship.
“It’s an opportunity for them to pretend they’re not racist or pretend this means something to them,” she said. “If it did, they would’ve done some research. And I’m not happy about that. You found me on Spotify easily — why couldn’t they?”
This is a good point, especially since the country artists are signed to Big Machine Records, one of the most well-resourced labels in music today. Surely, someone could have found this answer, if only the question were asked. Besides, the consequences for Anita White go beyond the financial realm. “This is my life,” she said, adding,
“Lady A is my brand, I’ve used it for over 20 years, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. This is too much right now. They’re using the name because of a Black Lives Matter incident that, for them, is just a moment in time. If it mattered, it would have mattered to them before. It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd to die for them to realize that their name had a slave reference to it.”
A representative for the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum said that the decision was made in ignorance, and that they plan to contact the original Lady A soon. But any good will the country artists had yesterday is now gone. It’s a reminder that being a white ally requires introspection, accountability, and (this shouldn’t need to be said) more than five minutes of googling.
If you’re a person of privilege hoping to do more good and less harm, check out Killer Mike’s homework for white Americans, or read Pearl Jam’s reflections on “unconscious racism” and “white voices overtaking the narrative.” Better yet, if you want to donate to support the fight for social justice and equality, check out this list.