By now you’ve probably heard that two country music superstar bands have altered their band names in order to excise a part of their names that honored the Confederacy. In each case, the bands had been using the offensive name for a long time and only now, in this time of social justice awakening, have they come to realize that maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. How the two bands have handled this change gives insight into their real intentions though.
First we have the Dixie Chicks. They have been releasing music under that name for 30 years. Dixie, however, is a word that refers to the states that seceded from the union to form the Confederacy. One may wonder why a band made up of three women with clear liberal leanings–remember the controversy over their anti-Iraq war stance in 2003–would include a word that connotes a pro-slavery stance in their band name. There was probably some pandering in that initial decision. Country music’s base is in the deep South. So honoring that base by calling themselves the Dixie Chicks may have seemed like a solid financial decision at the beginning and, more than likely, it probably never occurred to them that some might find the name offensive.
Nonetheless, it took the Dixie Chicks far too long to “get woke.” It took the numerous protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman which spread to protests against Confederate monuments before they got a clue that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t a good look to have Dixie in their name. However, once the Dixie Chicks “woke” up, they completely dropped the offending word from their name, changing the band name to simply, The Chicks. Then they went a step further and released a new song called March March (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwBjF_VVFvE) that unquestioningly showed their support for the Black Lives Matters and other social justice movements. So not only have they finally changed their name to remove a pro-Confederacy word, but they have reconfirmed their support for social justice causes at the risk of incurring the wrath of some of their fan base. That is how you become part of the solution.
Then we have the case of Lady Antebellum. They have released eight albums, two EPs, two box sets, and a Christmas album under that name since 2008. Antebellum is a word that means the pre-Civil War South, i.e., the South in the time of slavery. Again, one wonders why a band would choose a name that seems to glorify the pro-slavery South, but we will also chalk this up to ignorance and pandering to the Southern country music base.
Unlike The Chicks though, Lady Antebellum did not completely remove the offending word. Instead, they shortened it to the abbreviation “A,” now calling themselves Lady A. Doing so does not fix the problem because everyone knows what the A stands for. Basically, Lady Antebellum is trying to look woke without taking the risk of losing some fans in doing so. They want to avoid bad publicity arising out of their pro-slavery name while showing their actual pro-slavery fans, *nudge, nudge, wink wink*, that nothing has really changed. Those fans know that the A still means Antebellum.
Further, apparently Lady Antebellum copyrighted the name Lady A ten years ago, just a few years after their debut album. Why would they copyright a name that they didn’t use and, in fact, would not use for another decade? It’s almost as if they knew how offensive their band name was and wanted to have a back-up name ready to use if things got so bad they had to change their name. Obviously I don’t know why Lady Antebellum cynically copyrighted a name that they didn’t use, but it does not look good that they did.
What’s worse is that, in changing their name from Lady Antebellum to Lady A and in copyrighting the name Lady A so long ago, the band didn’t check to see if the name was already taken. Up in the state of Washington, Anita White had been performing under the name Lady A for better than 30 years, first as part of a Motown group called Lady A & the Baby Blues Funk Band for 18 years, then as a solo artist under the name Lady A. She has released four solo albums under that name since 2010 with a live album scheduled for release this year. Anita White has built a brand around being Lady A for a long time.
After Lady Antebellum announced their name change to Lady A, music streaming services immediately began reflecting the new name. For the original Lady A, however, this meant her fans could no longer find her music on the streaming services as the new Lady A topped out the music searches. This led White to call out Lady Antebellum for usurping her name. While Lady Antebellum was apologetic, they nonetheless insisted on keeping the name in settlement discussions with White, although they were willing to allow White to continue to use the name as well. This was understandably a problem for White. Why would she want to share a name that she had spent the better part of her adult life using and building her brand around?
When the settlement discussions inevitably broke down–there was no real way for two different artists to share a name–what Lady Antebellum did next was particularly loathsome. They filed suit against White asking a court for a declaration that they be allowed to use the Lady A name. Although they are not asking the court to prevent White from using the Lady A name, if they win, White’s career as Lady A will be effectively over. There is no way she can compete with Nashville superstars, whose music will dominate the Lady A name on music streaming services.
In sum, Lady Antebellum has belatedly realized that their name is offensive to African-Americans. So they have changed their name to a name that doesn’t completely erase its offensiveness and has stolen their new name from a long-time black blues singer. Then, instead of apologizing about the name conflict and choosing something else, they take the original Lady A to court to legalize their name theft. To put it more succinctly, they had a name that memorialized the theft of African-American labor and now seek to steal the labor of an African-American woman. This is how not to be part of the solution.