Country music rarely makes it to German media – especially the major US acts, which are typically rather unknown in my home country. On 11th and 12th June 2020, you could find quite a lot of notes on Lady Antebellum. Some scandal? Not really – the band decided to rename. But finally, this leads to quite many discussions – in the country scene, but also outside of the music genre. I felt I just had to blog about that – even though I am not fully sure, what my final statement will be at this time when I am starting this posting.
Lady Antebellum to Lady A – What has happened?
On 11th June 2020, Hillary, Charles and Dave posted the same statement in four pictures on their social media channels. For example, you can review their statement on Twitter and on Instagram. The Twitter statement just comes with the text Dear Fans, the Instagram ones with a copy of the message, so that both versions practically have in common that the band did not add any information apart from the words of the statement themselves. I also could not find any band’s statement other than the posted one so far. Fans are looking forward to the first public performance of the band after renaming, which will happen on Saturday, 13th June, as part of the Opry Livestream.
The first of four sections first of all gives the statement that the band is going to rename to Lady A. However, there is also a reference to injustices, inequality and biases black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday. A sentence which is also very central to me is Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.
The second section is the longest one. First of all, it re-states that the original band name Lady Antebellum is a reference to the antebellum architecture style (which was always the “official” story, as you can also see in my Ocean album review). But we are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word referring to the period of history before the civil war, which includes slavery. Quite an innocent way to present the background. We are deeply sorry for the hurt this has caused […].
The third section is quite a very short statement and just focuses on the timing of the renaming decision.
The fourth section is looking forward, starting with we feel like we have been awakened, but this is just one step. There are countless more that need to be taken. Later they talk about making the necessary changes to practice antiracism and we will continue to educate ourselves.
Lady Antebellum to Lady A – Fact Check
Maybe let’s start with the current background in the USA. The killing (or better call it: the murder) of George Perry Floyd Jr. on 25th May 2020 has shaken the country. Covid-19 moves more and more to the background, not just due to the protests and the unfortunate riots, parts of the American society feel to reflect about racism in everyday life intensively. The Time Magazine for example recently stated that several anti-racist books sell out and gives advice which books to read (see this link). They even call it the America’s Long Overdue Awakening to Systemic Racism. Being anti-racist became an established concept of thinking within a few weeks, there is maybe even a certain expectation to become anti-racist. CNN, for example, recently guided their customers How to become anti-racist (link). Common knowledge feels to be catalyzed by the recent developments. I guess this pressure is huge on celebrities.
The fact check on Antebellum is rather easy. It may be less surprising to Europeans, where knowledge of Latin or Latin-origin languages is more widespread, but literally ante bellum means “before (the) war”. In US-American history, the war typically referred is the Civil War. Ante bellum / post bellum is a common wording in English. Especially ante bellum / antebellum is a common wording for the period before the American Civil War, which also means it is a clear reference to the time of slavery. If you would use the band name Lady Antebellum in this context, you could somehow build a reference to a support of injustice done during these times (just fact-checking, this does not necessarily reflect my personal opinion).
Lady Antebellum (I will use the original band name in this posting majorly) always clearly stated that their band name is originated from the Antebellum architecture style. You see an example for that in the picture above showing Barrington Hall (Roswell, Georgia). All band members have Southern State background. There is a detailed Wikipedia article on this style. It also shortly references the struggle how to deal with that heritage. On the one hand, the wealth which created these houses has in most cases undoubtedly created by slavery – on the other hand, the buildings are historically very valuable properties and reflect parts of American history. Of course, the architecture style Antebellum got its name from the Antebellum period, so they are equivalent in a certain way.
You could finally try to investigate “how racist” the word Antebellum in fact is. I feel that is very individual and hard for me as a non-native speaker living in another country to judge on this topic. If you for example look into the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the two usage examples of antebellum clearly refers to social topics.
Lady Antebellum to Lady A – The Reactions
Not too surprisingly, the reactions on social media by the fans were massive. I don’t dare to tell you any tendencies and majorities in public opinion – the number of comments is massive and the weighting of supportive and non-supportive postings could be highly influenced by the display algorithm of social media. There is definitely the full range of reactions possible – and it feels that both sides, the positive and the negative comments, seem to have a significant support.
A quite interesting side note of the whole story is a 64 old blues singer, whose civil name is Anita White, but who is performing as Lady A since more than twenty years. Indeed, Lady Antebellum fans used the Lady A short name since ages, but the band never used this one officially. For example Taste of Country quotes Anita White with 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 (see link). It however feels unclear whether Anita White really owns the name right. The article states that White clearly states that she as a business trademark for Lady A LLC (an “LLC” is a limited liability company). Could lead to interesting lawsuits.
One thing which I personally felt very interesting is how quickly the band was able to update their public appearance. For example, I checked Amazon Music and Spotify one day after the statement and even albums which have clearly been issues as Lady Antebellum are now Lady A (screenprint taken from Amazon Music, German Version, below):
Lady Antebellum to Lady A – My View
Of course, this story is very hard to judge about the story in detail. But the more I digged into the topic, the stronger my opinion on that one became. Maybe starting with some bullet points first:
- First of all, it is of course a good thing that you remove the naming Antebellum from a perspective that someone could above the band name Lady Antebellum for racist or other political dumb reasons (not necessarily the band themselves).
- The whole story shows that with all the good thoughts of checking yourself against racism and trying to become a better and fairer person, there is some sort of hysteria behind it. You should take your time, review what you do and did in a sensible amount of time and take wise decision. Especially the fact that the band is surprised that somebody might have naming rights on Lady A shows that Lady Antebellum did not purely take a wise and calm decision.
- I am very neutral on whether Lady Antebellum has a racist touch or not. One reason is my linguistic limitation having German as my mother tongue. I however strongly feel that you cannot limit yourself in a way that you say that Antebellum is purely an architecture style and not a reference to a time period as well. It is always both.
Three people stating that they do think about what they are doing?
- Lady Antebellum are public people, celebrities. There are likely thousands of interviews around the world in which they have been asked whether they named Antebellum. Statements like that Hillary, Charles and Dave did not weigh the fact that Antebellum is in fact a time period in which slavery was a significant part of society are ridiculous and too easy for me. They started thinking about the name just because George Floyd died in a terrible act? Too easy for me. In my point of view, that would be a terrible statement of lack of intelligence and social empathy of these three people. Especially when you travel to Europe, people will quickly point you on that – and I am sure that many people in North America will do so as well.
- I already emphasized the first section statement Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed in my overview above.It is to me very similar: did you just close your eyes about all the things which happened in the past and currently happen? Did you ever ask yourself why most of the people in your US audiences have white skin color?
Fianally, it is about the “new” name to me…
That’s all just some sort of introduction to the key reason, why I believe this move is overhasty, ill-considered and not really from the bottom of their hearts. The key reason is their new band name. If you were Dave, Hillary or Charles and felt that these “baby” called Lady Antebellum should no longer have her surname because it is cruel… If you felt you just cannot stand to go back on stage with that branding which is referring to million of people you have faced terrible injustice in the past and in the current… How would you name the band then?
I have no idea, but I can tell you one name I would definitely not choose: Lady A. This is no departure from the past. It is no step into a new world in which our next outward step will be a donation to the equal justice […]. Lady A is nothing but an abbreviation. It is a reference to the past. To a band name, about the band says she does not want to operate with any more. The A will still stand for Antebellum and all the cruel facts potentially around it.
Overall, this is just completely misplaced self-marketing which is likely done under huge pressure. The facts were there since the very beginning of your band, the injustice was there as well. I don’t know what you really feel – but your story is just too thin to me, Hillary, Charles and Dave.
Barrington Hall picture in the posting: picture by Galen Parks Smith, published under CC BY 2.5 licence. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antebellum_architecture#/media/File:Barrington_Hall_North.JPG
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