A new name, and controversy, for country trio Lady A

Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum, will play the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 2.
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Lady A, formerly known as Lady Antebellum, will play the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 2.

Credit: Dove Shore

Credit: Dove Shore

The former Lady Antebellum comes through ‘stronger than ever’

For most musicians, getting through the pandemic was difficult enough, if only because they couldn’t play concerts. For many, there were financial worries over how to pay bills, and whether they could pay their road crew and other employees.

Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum) had something else hanging over their heads — controversy over changing the band name to Lady A.

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The name change came about as the Black Lives Matter movement put renewed focus on race relations and racial disparities. The word antebellum is associated with the period preceding the Civil War, which was largely defined by slavery, although Haywood said he, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott chose the word because they liked the architecture of the antebellum period. They were unaware of the negative connotation of the term, Haywood said.

After learning of the name issue, the three musicians and members of their support team began contacting friends and associates of color to find out how they viewed the word antebellum.

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Lady Antebellum perform "Downtown" to a sold out crowd on Friday, September 8, 2017, at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. The You Look Good Tour also featured Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

Lady Antebellum perform "Downtown" to a sold out crowd on Friday, September 8, 2017, at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. The You Look Good Tour also featured Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com
Caption
Lady Antebellum perform "Downtown" to a sold out crowd on Friday, September 8, 2017, at Verizon Amphitheatre in Alpharetta. The You Look Good Tour also featured Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young. Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

Credit: Robb Cohen Photography & Video/

“(I) just sort of started asking the question ‘Hey, is the word antebellum offensive to you in any way, shape or form?’,” Haywood said. “And the unanimous answer from all of my friends of color that I spoke to, the unanimous answer was ‘Yeah, I just don’t know if I feel invited to that music. I don’t know if I feel like I want to go to that show, based on that term and what that brings up for me as a marginalized community that’s been historically oppressed.’

“That wrecked me,” Haywood said. “As someone who from day one wrote ‘I Run To You’ about being unified and leaning on each other and loving each other and running from hate, we never want to stand for anything that would be a barrier to our music. So yeah, it was borne out of that and the discussions led to that. Then obviously, changing the name, the decision was easy once we had all of those conversations and facts in front of us. And going by Lady A, which we’ve had trademarked for our entire career, was the decision.”

As many fans know, however, changing the name hasn’t been that simple.

Shortly after announcing the change to Lady A, the group learned a singer based in Seattle, Anita White, had been performing under the Lady A name for more than two decades. Initially, it looked like Lady Antebellum and White might reach a mutual agreement that would allow Lady Antebellum to officially adopt the name Lady A and record and perform under that name.

But negotiations fell apart, reportedly after White demanded $10 million (half of which White promised to give to charity) for giving up her claim to the Lady A name. Lady Antebellum then filed suit against White to enforce the group’s trademark of the Lady A name, a move that was criticized in some circles as rendering empty any of the group’s words about standing for inclusion, equality and acceptance.

White is fighting the lawsuit, and the case is pending.

Haywood had little comment to offer about the lawsuit and criticisms it generated. He was emphatic in discussing Lady A’s regrets over using the word antebellum in their band name, and the group’s commitment to making a positive impact through their music.

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Lady Antebellum at Gwinnett Arena (now Gas South Arena) in 2012.

Credit: Robb D. Cohen / Special

Lady Antebellum at Gwinnett Arena (now Gas South Arena) in 2012.
Caption
Lady Antebellum at Gwinnett Arena (now Gas South Arena) in 2012.

Credit: Robb D. Cohen / Special

Credit: Robb D. Cohen / Special

“Obviously, that’s a trademark case and the lawyers are handling that,” he said. “But nothing changes our mission, which we feel like is to do those things of making sure we’re standing for love, for acceptance and inclusion. So that’s our focus. Nothing can shake our focus on making sure we stand for those things. That’s what we want to be remembered by is having music that touches people, that brings hope and healing and fun and joy.”

The whole name change episode and dealing with the pandemic were clearly taxing for Haywood, Kelley and Scott, but Haywood said one good outcome of this period is it’s brought the trio closer together than ever. Haywood and Kelley have been friends since attending middle and high school in Augusta and college at the University of Georgia, and the band was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

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Dave Haywood (left), Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley from the band Lady Antebellum walk the red carpet for the 2014 Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, October 11, 2014. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Dave Haywood (left), Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley from the band Lady Antebellum walk the red carpet for the 2014 Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, October 11, 2014.     JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL
Caption
Dave Haywood (left), Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley from the band Lady Antebellum walk the red carpet for the 2014 Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta on Saturday, October 11, 2014. JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

Credit: Jonathan Phillips

The pandemic and the lawsuit didn’t stop Lady A from carrying on with the work of being a band. During the downtime, the trio recorded a stack of new songs, some of which have arrived on their current mini-album, “What A Song Can Do (Chapter One).”

The new release fits comfortably alongside Lady A’s seven previous studio albums. It offers up a mix of rich country-pop ballads (“Talk of This Town,” “Fire” or “Things He Handed Down”), melodic mid-tempo tunes (“What A Song Can Do”) and uptempo tracks (“Like A Lady”) that are at turns, earnest, heartfelt or playful and feature the tight harmonies of Scott, Kelley and Haywood. It’s a musical style that has brought the group five No. 1 country albums and 11 singles that have topped “Billboard” magazine’s Country Airplay chart, including the nine-times-platinum 2009 blockbuster ballad, “Need You Now.”

As the title “What A Song Can Do (Chapter One)” suggests, it is the first installment in a planned two-part project. The seven songs from “Chapter One” will be supplemented by seven new tracks to form a full-length album, also called “What A Song Can Do.” The album arrives Oct. 22.

“We’ll have another batch of songs coming out this fall, one exciting collaboration, and it’s going to be fun,” Haywood said. “There’s a lot of exciting stuff on the next batch of songs.”

The new releases will be represented in Lady A’s concerts this summer, but most of the set figures to be made up of the group’s No. 1 hits and other singles.

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Lady Antebellum - from left, Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley - will swing through Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 2. Photo: Eric Ray Davidson

Credit: Eric Ray Davidson

Lady Antebellum - from left, Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley - will swing through Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 2. Photo: Eric Ray Davidson
Caption
Lady Antebellum - from left, Dave Haywood, Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley - will swing through Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on Oct. 2. Photo: Eric Ray Davidson

Credit: Eric Ray Davidson

Credit: Eric Ray Davidson

“Yeah, ‘What A Song Can Do,’ the song itself, will definitely be in the show. ‘Like a Lady’ is our (new) single. That will be a fun one to do,” Haywood said. “And we may do a little medley somewhere in the middle (of the show). And there are a couple of songs off of ‘Ocean’ (the group’s 2019 album), too. We never got to tour on the ‘Ocean’ album. It’s a really interesting point to be at in your career where you’re kind of actually having to leave out a few songs.”

Haywood hopes that “What A Song Can Do” opens a new chapter in which Lady A will continue to make music that touches and entertains fans.

“I’m excited to see where it’s going to take us,” Haywood said. “I’m thrilled to move forward and keep putting out music that speaks to us and hopefully speaks to others. I think it really comes back around to that title (”What A Song Can Do”). That title almost feels like it’s the summation of our career, more than one album. It really represents our whole career to me. And it’s crazy what a song can do. It’s brought us all here to doing what we’re doing here today. So I’m very grateful for that.”


CONCERT PREVIEW

Lady A

7 p.m. Oct. 2. $35-$100.75. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 800-745-3000, livenation.com.