The Lady A naming rights controversy continued to unravel on Wednesday as attorneys for the trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum filed a lawsuit in Nashville’s U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against the blues/soul singer Anita White, who has performed under the name “Lady A” for years. The suit neither seeks monetary settlement from the singer Lady A, nor aims to stop White from using it, but rather was filed after White and her council made an “Attempt to enforce purported trademark rights in a mark that Plaintiffs have held for more than a decade.”
The suit brought by the trio claims that they have used Lady Antebellum and Lady A interchangeably for 13+ years. It goes on to cite a number of instances of Lady Antebellum using the “Lady A” nickname including a page from the band’s website posted in 2008. Furthermore, the suit states that the trio has actually held a trademark for the “Lady A” moniker for nearly a decade. Per Billboard, “The band applied to register Lady A for entertainment purposes, including live musical performances and streaming musical programming. After there was no opposition filed by any person or entity, the application was registered on July 26, 2011. Further applications to register the name for musical recordings and clothing were also granted after there was no opposition.”
As the lawsuit states, “Prior to 2020, White did not challenge, in any way, Plaintiffs’ open, obvious, and widespread nationwide and international use of the LADY A mark as a source indicator for Plaintiffs’ recorded, downloadable, and streaming music and videos, Plaintiffs’ live musical performances, or Plaintiffs’ sale of souvenir merchandise.”
Read the full statement issued by the trio in conjunction with the lawsuit 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.
While Ms. White’s attorneys have yet to issue an official comment on the suit, she posted on Instagram (per CNN), “You finally realized your name is racially problematic so you shorten it, but then sue the black woman that has been using that name for almost 2 decades…. That’s some white privilege.”
UPDATE 7/10/20: Anita White (Lady A) spoke about the lawsuit in a lengthy piece in Rolling Stone published on Friday, July 10th. Lady A explained in the piece, “They want to change the narrative by minimizing my voice, by belittling me and by not telling the entire truth. I don’t think of myself as a victim, but I’ve worked too long and too hard to just walk away and say I’ll share the name with them. They want to appropriate something I used for decades. Just because I don’t have 40 million fans or $40 million, that should not matter.” Read Ms. White’s thoughts on the lawsuit, her reasoning for the hefty sum she requested, and what her next moves will be here.
CNN Commentary On Lady A Controversy
This strange saga began with the wrongful killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25th, and the global protests against racism and police brutality that have erupted in its wake. On June 2nd, artists and companies across the music industry observed “Blackout Tuesday” in response to the outcry, foregoing releases in order to spend time learning about the issues at hand, examining privilege systems in our society, and getting involved in bringing about real change regarding systemic racism.
In light of that collective reflection, on June 11th, Lady Antebellum—comprised of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and David Haywood—announced that they were officially renaming the band to “Lady A” due to the connotations of southern slavery with which the term “Antebellum” (Latin for “before war”) is associated. As the band noted in an official statement,
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, and our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases Black women and men have always faced and continue to face everyday. Now, blindspots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.
After much personal reflection, band discussion, prayer and many honest conversations with some of our closest Black friends and colleagues, we have decided to drop the word “antebellum” from our name and move forward as Lady A, the nickname our fans gave us almost from the start.
While the decision was intended to address this “blindspot” in solidarity with Black Americans, the move backfired in spectacularly ironic fashion: The name “Lady A” had already been employed by the singer Anita White, a Black artist from Seattle, for more than twenty years. In changing the band’s name, the trio made it nearly impossible to find the singer Lady A on search engines. In other words, what was meant to be an anti-racist show of solidarity with the Black community has effectively silenced a Black artist’s voice.
Nominated as Best Blues Performer of the Year 2020 by the Washington Blues Society and known as “The Hardest Workin’ Woman,” Lady A is also the host DJ on Lady A’s Gumbo & Gospel on Sunday mornings and hosts a Black N Blues (the B side) show on NWCZ online radio out of Tacoma, Washington. White also runs Lady A Productions, which brings a range of blues and gospel artists from around the world to Seattle to perform.
In a post on Facebook on June 11th, the singer Lady A vented her frustration, asking how no one involved in the name change realized there was already a Black artist using the new name:
…Lady Antebellum now High-jacking my professional name by changing theirs to Lady A because they didn’t bother to do their homework on a name you chose when you started 14 years ago. … I have been Lady A for 20+ years, my Business is Lady A Productions, LLC and you can guarantee the first Cease and Desist notification I get from you will land your asses in court. … You can’t take my name.
On June 15th, the band Lady A tweeted a screenshot from a video call between the band and the singer Lady A. The tweet’s copy indicated that the two parties had come to some sort of understanding, with the trio seemingly concluding that the parties had agreed to share the name “Lady A.”
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 pic.twitter.com/P3uyhfO3gX
— Lady A (@ladya) June 15, 2020
That announcement proved to be both optimistic and premature as Ms. White told a different story in a statement to Newsday on June 16th: “I received a draft agreement from the Antebellum camp. I’m not happy about [it] 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.”
Though Lady A/Lady Antebellum’s rebranding has caused the most conflict, they are not the only act that has changed or entertained changing their name in light of the ongoing protests. Much like the trio formerly known as Lady Antebellum, The Dixie Chicks recently shortened their name to “The Chicks” to eliminate the southern slavery connotations of the term “Dixie.” Patterson Hood also pondered changing the name of Drive-By Truckers in a lengthy NPR essay in which he examined his privilege as a white person growing up in the South. Reflecting on the potentially problematic nature of “Drive-By Truckers” in light of the Lady A controversy, Hood mused, “It was such an absurd band name that I didn’t have to worry about a blues performer in Seattle having the same. I had the privilege of being blissfully unaware.”