Well, here’s a story that keeps getting worse. Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum, is now suing Anita “Lady A” White, a Black blues singer who has been performing under the name for over 20 years, over the rights to her name.
To recap, the country trio Lady A dropped the “ntebellum” from their name in June in response to the country’s ongoing reckoning with institutionalized and ingrained racism. Beyond the fact that the “A” essentially still stands for America’s pre-Civil War era, the switch drew criticism when it was revealed that White had been already been using the moniker for years. “For them to not even reach out is pure privilege,” the 61-year-old artist said at the time.
A few days later, the band Lady A tweeted a picture of their video chat with the singer Lady A. “We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground,” read the caption. This announcement proved premature, however, as talks between the two sides quickly broke down. In a statement to Newsday, White said she was “not happy” with a draft agreement the band had sent her. “Their camp is trying to erase me… Trust is important and I no longer trust them,” she added.
Which brings us to the lawsuit filed Wednesday, July 8th in a Nashville court. The suit argues that White is attempting “to enforce purported trademarks rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade.” In patent documents reviewed by Billboard, it appears the band indeed registered the name “Lady A” for entertainment, musical recordings, and clothing purposes in May 2010, with a non-contested approval coming in July 2011. The band further cites instances as early as 2008 when they used the Lady A name interchangeably with Lady Antebellum.
Elsewhere in the suit, there’s mention that White’s new counsel submitted a revised draft of the proposed agreement between the singer and the band. This time, there was an “exorbitant monetary demand,” which Lady A(ntebellum) claimed in a statement was $10 million. That demand, coupled with “White’s public statements,” led to the country goup’s new legal action.
The initial agreement between the two parties would have seen Lady A the singer able to continue operating under the name, even recording a collaborative song with Lady A the group. In their statement, the band said they “never even entertained the idea that she shouldn’t also be able to use the name Lady A, and never will.” As such, they aren’t seeking any monetary damages or an injunction, only that they be allowed to legally use the Lady A trademark without infringing on any of White’s rights.
Update: White has discussed the lawsuit in a new interview with Vulture. “I was quiet for two weeks because I was trying to believe that it was going to be okay and that they would realize that it would be easier to just change their name, or pay me for my name,” White said.
She explained that she initially pitched them on the idea of going by “the Band Lady A, or Lady A the Band, and I could be Lady A the Artist, but they didn’t want to do that.” When they declined, she responded by asking for $10 million. She planned to use half of the money to rebrand herself and then donate the other $5 million to organizations supporting Black independent artists.
“Five million dollars is nothing, and I’m actually worth more than that, regardless of what they think,” White explained. “But here we go again with another white person trying to take something from a Black person, even though they say they’re trying to help. If you want to be an advocate or an ally, you help those who you’re oppressing. And that might require you to give up something because I am not going to be erased.”
Read the trio Lady A’s statement below.
“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.”