The word Antebellum refers to the time period before the American Civil War. It marks a prosperous time in the American Southland when the region made money hand-over-fist on the back of slaves. In 2006, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, formed a country group in Nashville and called the group, Lady Antebellum. The trio kept the name until about an hour ago when, after pressure from outside forces, they agreed their name was inappropriate. The band then tried to assume the name Lady A, instead. But there was a problem. The prominent Seattle blues singer, Anita White, has been going by the name Lady A since 1987.
In early June, White says a friend informed her of Lady Antebellum’s proposed name change. Ever since, White has been fighting to, as she says, not be “erased” by Lady Antebellum. On June 11th, Lady Antebellum said they officially changed their name to Lady A. Since then, the trio has been in conversations with Seattle’s Lady A to, they say, find a solution to the problem. But, as you will read below, how the Nashville country band projects that negotiation to the public is much different than how it went down, according to the original Lady A. We caught up with Lady A to ask her about the lawsuit, what the past 24-hours has been like (hint: a whirlwind) and, before all that, how she first got into music.
How did you first come to music?
My mom is a gospel singer and she always sang in church. So, I grew up singing in church at a very young age. My father was a drummer. He didn’t really go to church but my mom did. I grew up singing in church. I was the director of the church choir at 16. I always tell people, I always had my back to the audience, to the congregation at all times because I was directing the choir. I would teach parts. And that was my introduction to singing, gospel music. I love Mahalia Jackson, I did. I loved Mahalia Jackson. My grandmother would play her and so I would grow up listening to her and Shirley Caesar, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama. My mom really – they really loved gospel music and I went to church every Sunday. Well, actually back then, we went to church Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and Sunday! Back then. But that was my introduction to music. I grew up listening to music. My dad liked jazz music, you know, from what I remember. I remember hearing jazz and soul. My grandmother liked James Brown and Tyrone Davis and Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Rush. So, those are the people – Milli Jackson – that influenced my blues side. And blues is not too far from gospel. Gospel is what comes first.
When did you start performing and when did you start identifying as Lady A?
I started identifying as Lady A back in 1987. I was living in Seattle. But I got married. And at the time, we were doing, I remember, the last gig I did was some place in Bellevue, with a Motown Review. But when I moved to Florida, my friend, they had a karaoke business and we used to go to do karaoke with them every weekend. They were Team Karaoke and she started out calling me Ms. A and I said, “Well, I’m married!” Because I was happily married [Laughs]. And she started – she said, “Well, I’m gonna call you Lady A.” And she started calling me Lady A. Then I just kept that name when I came back to Seattle. I just kept it going.
What has your experience been like as a jazz musician in the Northwest and beyond – I understand you’ve done some touring, as well?
Yes! Originally, we started out, I was doing background, as I said, I was doing background for the Motown Review. I did that for a while and from that sprang Lady A & the Baby Blues Funk Band. Because Louise Thompson, who used to own Thompson’s Point of View [café] on 23rd and Union. She heard me sing one day and she said, “Can you come in and do a show?” And I said yes not really realizing, Oh I need a band! [Laughs] So, I called up the guys I was already playing with [in the Motown Review] and asked them if they would perform with me. And from there came the Baby Blue Funk Band. I wanted a cool name because we did blues and funk.
What has your past 24-hours been like?
[Laughs] Busy. When my attorney contacted me, you know, I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t surprised, you know? I was just ready to move on with it, basically. It’s time to move on. But I didn’t appreciate the fact that they’ve tried to make it seem like, you know, when they use the word “extort” money from them. I found that offensive. But outside of that, I knew it was going to come to this point. Just because they didn’t want to – they wanted to coexist and that is not something that I wanted to do, from the very beginning. I didn’t see this as coexisting. There was no way for us to coexist because, as you can see, they’ve already wiped me away. They’ve already erased me from social media platforms. When you go to look for my name now, you can’t even find it. All the things are about them. And they did that purposefully.
Let’s not forget, they did – that was intentional on their part, on the part of their big machine, or whatever you want to call it. That was intentional. All the times that we were talking and trying to come to a peaceful resolution – you know, we made suggestions. I said, “You guys can be Lady A The Band and I’ll be Lady A The Artist.” And I said it three times. And they just acted like they didn’t hear me. That was with the lawyers. And then when we went on the Zoom call with them, I said the same thing. You know, “You guys can be Lady A The Band and I’ll be Lady A The Artist.” And nobody addressed it.
We talked about their management company possibly taking me under their wing and helping me to rebrand myself. Because in all of this, I never thought that both of us being Lady A was going to work. You can say that they’re country artists and I’m blues. It doesn’t matter. You’ve already erased me, so I’ve already seen that wasn’t going to work. And if it was going to work then you lied, because you didn’t make any effort – because the contract said “your best effort” to ensure that I would not be erased. And I used those words, “You’re going to erase me.”
Nobody ever wanted to address it. We came up with another suggestion that, you know, that I just be rebranded. But after this other contract, the second contract, that came back and said the same thing, I was pretty much tired of the going back-and-forth and basically just said, Okay, you know what? I think the simple solution would be to rebrand myself. You pay me $5 million to rebrand myself, to put money back into my community, to help somebody else. Because it’s not just about me. But you are taking something from me. So, you need to pay for it. And then the other $5 million that they neglected to tell people about, was to go to charity, to three charities in my name. One was Black Lives Matter, the other one was for seniors and youth centers here in the Seattle-area. And the other one was for independent artists around the country that might need legal assistance and help.
This is not just about me. This is about the people who have supported me, my community, my family, my fans, the kids that I mentor in the Rhapsody Project. This is not just about me. Because my name is worth more than $10 million, if you’re going to take it from me. But I pretty much just wanted to settle it and say, “You know what? There’s a lot that I could do to help somebody else.” But they put out that I’m extorting them for $10 million. Whatever narrative you want to run, it does not erase the fact that you said that Lady Antebellum had racist connotations and you’ve changed it to Lady A and then you decide you want to take – you want to keep that name and “share” it with me?
I don’t have to share anything with you! I don’t have to share my name with you! I was fine before when you were Lady Antebellum and my name came right under you, as Lady A. But privilege allows your behavior to be such as it is.
They said they trademarked “Lady A” in 2011 and nobody filed opposition against the name. I realize an independent artist doesn’t often have lawyers their pockets – but is that true, as far as you know?
They trademarked “Lady Antebellum” they didn’t trademark “Lady A.” They trademarked Lady A on June 9th when they knew this was going to break. That’s when they trademarked it. Because I went and looked it up. And then they even tried to say it on the call that they had trademarked Lady A since 2010. That’s not true. But the bottom line is, if you want to talk about a trademark, I’ve got Lady A tattooed on my arm, which I had tattooed right before my 40th birthday. I’m older than all of them! And I’ve been Lady A since 1987.
And this is where privilege comes in. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And their privilege is allowing them their behavior to not be what they’re talking about because they said this is because of Black Lives Matter – so they said, let me find the quote, “As a band, we have strived for our music to be a refuge, inclusive of all. We’ve watched and listened more than ever these last few weeks.” Well, no, they didn’t. Because I told them, specifically, when we had that Zoom call and on individual telephone calls with them. I told them, “You’re not listening.” And I told them, I work in race and social justice for my job and my Lady A panel for white allies, The Truth Is Loud, talks about the very thing that white people – because things are changing in the world, and we have a lot of wonderful people who want to be allies, so those folks, some of them don’t know what to say. Because white people don’t talk to their children and talk to their families and talk to their community about race. They don’t have to. Their families, they don’t. And they’ve admitted it.
So, I’ve started these conversations with The Truth Is Loud conversation panel. The first one was on the 27th and we have another one coming up on August 8th. It’s a Zoom panel. There’s about 90 people on it. There were 92 people on the last one. It’s a conversation for Black, Indigenous and people of color to be able to tell their stories of how systemic racism has affected them, the trauma behind the murders that we see every single day, or every time a murder a happens, because it is murder. It’s modern day lynching. And then how white people who want to truly be allies, how they need to show up. And how they need to have conversations with their children, their community, their friends, their family.
And I told Lady Antebellum that. Hilary and I had an extensive conversation about it and she said, “Oh, I want to be a part of it. I want to be on the panel. I want to be able to help so that I can learn.” And I said, “One thing you have to do is learn to listen. If a Black, Indigenous or person of color tells you that you’re not listening, you’re not hearing what I’m saying, you need to listen. That means you need to learn something.” They haven’t learned anything. Because their privilege entitles them to hear what they want to hear and they want to be the victim right now.
It comes off incredibly – tragically, really – tone deaf. To be pressured from outside voices to change your name from Lady Antebellum because it recalls an especially racist period in American history and then to turn around and try and take the name of a longtime Black musician – I can believe it but I almost can’t believe it!
You know, my name is my whole identity. I chose that name – my friend, you know, gave me that name – and I chose to keep that name and make it a brand. My producer John has been with me for 20 years and he’s helped me make this a brand. He kept telling me the importance of this being my brand. I have t-shirts with Lady A on them. I have fans with Lady A on them. I’ve got dresses with Lady A on them. People have my material in Europe.
I don’t have anybody who manages me. I manage myself. I manage the band, the guys that I’m responsible for. I manage the band. Am I perfect at everything that I do? No. But you know what? I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I’ve worked doggone hard. I’ve made some mistakes along the way but I’ve learned some great lessons along the way. And it doesn’t matter if I have 40,000 fans like they do. Or 400 because just as important as their 40,000 fans are to them. My 400 fans are to me. They’re important to me. And I have a responsibility – god has blessed me to be where I am in life and I don’t think that this is an accident. There’s a reason.
Because the bottom line is, this is kind of ironic, right? You would think that they’d be thinking that it’d be easier for them to just change their name then to go through this in PR. The publicity that they’re getting is negative. But when you are privileged, you don’t care. Because you think you’re going to win. But I’m not going – you’ve erased me on social media platforms right now but god will elevate me, so I don’t have to worry about you. If you want to tell people that I’m extorting you and not tell the truth? That’s okay.
May I ask, what’s next for you now?
Sorry I have food in my mouth! Hold on!
Oh, that’s alright! What are you eating? Let’s change the subject for a moment.
I’m eating a Subway sandwich.
Yeah! Alright! What kind?
Subway tuna melt! It’s my favorite sandwich from Subway. [Laughs]
Before we go, can I ask, what does the lawsuit say that you’ve been served with? Is Lady Antebellum trying to coexist with your name or take it from you or what is the actual lawsuit threatening?
Well, we haven’t seen the lawsuit yet [Laughs]. That’s the fun thing! That’s why I said, for them this is a game. Because they could have served me the same day that they put this out, just like when they put their song out, they erased me from social media. But they didn’t even call my attorney. What they did was they went to Billboard and Billboard Magazine sent an email to my attorneys and said, “Would you like to comment on the fact that Lady Antebellum is about to sue Anita White?” And my attorney [gets choked up] called me. So, you don’t even have the – what’s the word I’m looking for? The decency. You know? You don’t even have the decency to do things decently and in order.
I kept my head down. I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t saying anything about this. They were sending text messages and talking. The ironic thing is that Charles Kelley from Lady Antebellum sent me a text on the 4th of July to tell me that he hoped that I was okay and that he had been thinking about me and that he wanted to make sure that we resolved this issue, that there had to be a way and we were going to get through it. But all that went in the back of his mind – he already knew that they were going to file a lawsuit against me.
So, I’m not about playing games with them anymore. If I’m going to get any money from them, it’s not about me. It’s about the people that have supported me, my family, my friends that I never got to see hardly because I was always either touring or singing somewhere on the weekends, and I was working at the same time. You know? It’s about my band, it’s about my producer, John Oliver III and Dexter Allen. It’s about these people. It’s about my community. It’s about the seniors that I go sing for. It’s about the ladies luncheons that I put on every year. It’s about the race and social justice discussions that I have. It’s about helping other people. And if that $5 million that I’m go’nna get is going to make somebody else happy, then that’s what I’m going to do. But the other $5 million, I’m going to make sure that Antebellum knows those charities are in my name and it’s because of what you did, because you wanted take something from a Black woman.