It seems like just yesterday when country band Lady Antebellum decided to change their name to Lady A in order to cut ties with any associations with slavery and, you know, the Antebellum south. (It was actually three weeks ago, but still, it was recent.) There was one hiccup, though: Lady A was already the name of an artist, a Black blues singer from Seattle named Anita White who had been going by Lady A for over 20 years. Initially, the original Lady A was not pleased, telling Rolling Stone, “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.” She added, “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.”
But after the initial (rightful) hurt feelings, it seemed the two Lady As had reached a mutual understanding and everything was cool. On June 15, OG Lady A posted a Zoom selfie of her with the other Lady A (this is getting confusing), writing in the caption, “Transparent, honest, and authentic conversations were had. We are excited to share we are moving forward with positive solutions and common ground.”
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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. #LadyABluesSoulFunkGospelArtist #TheTruthIsLoud
Everything seemed to be good in A land, until news broke yesterday that Lady A(ntebellum) was suing Lady A(nita White). All good things must come to an end eventually, I guess, but that period of harmony was a brief one. In fact, just one day after that Instagram post, on June 16, White told Newsday, “I received a draft agreement from the Antebellum camp. I’m not happy about yet again after talking in good faith. … Their camp is trying to erase me and I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Trust is important and I no longer trust them.”
In regards to the lawsuit, Lady A the band said in a statement to CBS News, “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.” Rolling Stone reports that the $10 million was meant to be split between White and various charitable organizations, with $5 million going towards White’s efforts to help her rebrand herself and the remaining $5 million in donations going to Black Lives Matter, “a charity for seniors and youth in Seattle, and musicians in need of legal counsel”.
In the lawsuit, the band claims they have been using the name Lady A along with Lady Antebellum since 2006-2007, and Lady A became an official trademark in 2011 after no opposition was filed. They also registered the name to sell things like musical recordings and clothing, and once again no entity or person opposed the trademark.
The lawsuit does acknowledge White’s use of the name since 2010 and her Spotify page, but points out that she only had 166 monthly listeners compared to the band’s 7 million-plus. Ouch, legal burn.
The lawsuit is not seeking monetary damages, but rather, as Billboard reports, “only a court declaration that the trio is lawfully using the Lady A trademark and that its continued use of the trademark does not infringe on any rights White may have under state or federal law.” The band also said in a statement, “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.”
On the flipside, White’s attorneys said in a statement to Billboard, “It is disappointing that Lady Antebellum decided to forego settlement negotiations in favor of suing Ms. White, the rightful owner of the LADY A trademark. We will zealously defend Ms. White’s prior rights in the LADY A mark, a name she has used for over 30 years.”
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, White acknowledges, “Not wanting a name that is a reminder to many black folks of how so much was taken from us: our freedom, languages, families, and even our names makes sense.” But, she points out, “to do so by taking the name on which I, a black woman, have built my career in the music industry for over 20 years is ironic.”
While we don’t know how the suit will play out (though I could take a guess: the famous people with lots of money will win over the not-so-famous woman whose lawyers are representing her pro bono), it’s overall not a great look for Lady A the band to have changed their name to avoid any racist connotations, and then sue a Black woman who was using that same name for years. In her Rolling Stone interview, White says that the band changing “Lady Antebellum to Lady A didn’t change the connotation or yield to them being inclusive.” If they really wanted no association at all with the Antebellum south, and to avoid a public dispute that’s costing them bad press, they could just change the name of the band entirely. And given that, again, the band are famous people with lots of money, I’d venture that they could shoulder a complete rebrand a lot easier than White.
Images: s_bukley / Shutterstock.com; ladya_bluesdiva / Instagram