Blues and soul singer Anita White won’t back down from “Lady A,” the moniker she’s used for decades.
“I have built this name for decades,” White told ABC News. “I’m an independent artist… We grind every day to do what we do. Black folks, indigenous people … we grind even harder. Sometimes all we have is our name. We don’t want to have that taken away from us.”
White was speaking in reference to country music group Lady Antebellum, which recently shortened its name to "Lady A," a nickname used by the band's fans for years.
The band made the decision last month to drop “Antebellum” from its name amid an international reckoning on racial inequality. The word refers to the period of American history before the Civil War and is associated with slavery.
The group, most famous for their hit “Need You Now,” tried to reach an agreement with White, a Seattle-based artist, so they could both use the name without conflict. At first, they seemed to be on their way to an amicable agreement -- even discussing a possible song together -- when talks failed and the country group brought a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment affirming its right to use the name last week.
“My question was always, from the very beginning, I did not want to coexist. I didn’t see what coexistence would look like,” White said, saying that neither the artists nor their lawyers could provide an answer and that she was “disregarded” when she asked.
White says the issue is that the band’s huge presence leaves little space for her own.
“My fans used to be able to listen to my music on streaming services; now they struggle to find me,” White said in a July 10 statement. “Due to Lady Antebellum’s massive rebranding efforts, Lady Antebellum has erased me from every platform.”
“Lady Antebellum was at the top of Google search and I was always under them,” she told ABC News. “I’ve put out five CDs under Lady A. They’ve not put out one CD under Lady A. That’s their nickname. This is my professional name.”
White says she felt the band’s desire to change their name was insincere.
“I didn’t say that Black lives matter, they did. They brought this up,” she said.
“Our eyes opened wide to the injustices, inequality and biases Black women and men have always faced and continue to face every day,” the band said in a June 11 statement about its name change. “Now, blind spots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.”
White said that if their statement is true, "you need to put power behind your words, and being an ally sometimes requires that you give up something. I’m not going to be your token person so that you look woke.”
The band said in a later statement that White had demanded $10 million in payment and that it had trademarked the “Lady A” name a decade ago. White says she’s been using the name since 1987.
“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,” the band said on July 8. “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… We're disappointed that we won’t be able to work together with Anita for that greater purpose.”
White explained that she wanted to use half of the $10 million to rebrand herself as she refused to share the name. The other half would go to three charities.
“I decided that I have a life to get back to and if I’m going to have to rebrand myself as something else, because I can’t share a name with you, I’m not going to do that. I thought that well maybe rebranding would be the thing to do,” she said. “I thought … I can take $5 million to rebrand myself, change all my CDs -- nobody knows what goes into rebranding.”
She said the other $5 million would go to Black Lives Matter, the “seniors and young adults that I work with in my community here in the Seattle area” and a fund for musicians across the U.S. who are facing similar legal disputes. White said she is being represented pro bono in this case.
“This is not easy," she said, "but I have to stand up and say enough of taking from people of color and Black folks."