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For most musicians, getting through the pandemic was difficult enough, if only because they couldn’t play concerts. Many worried over how to pay bills and whether they could pay their road crew and other employees.
Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum) musicians had something else hanging over their heads: controversy over changing the band name to Lady A.
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 Dave 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.
What: Lady A with Uncle Kracker opening
Where: Great Jones County Fair Grandstand, 800 N. Maple St., Monticello
When: 8 p.m. July 23, 2022
Tickets: $60, greatjonescountyfair.com/ or free seating on hillside grass
Extras: $10 gate admission ages 11 and over; no coolers, no pets
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.
“(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.
But on Jan. 31, Lady A and White announced they had agreed to have their competing lawsuits dismissed. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
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.
“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,” he said. “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.
“Our friendship is stronger than ever. We’re on the same page more than ever,” he added. “We want to make sure we represent love and inclusivity and unity to our families and to our kids. I mean, thinking back 15 years, it’s just crazy. We were three young single people running around not having any idea what the future held. And to be here today and (know) that people still want to engage with our music is a big honor. So yeah, the respect for each other grew enormously in 2020. I’m just so grateful that we have had each other to rely on throughout that time.”
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, the first seven of which arrived on the mini-album, “What A Song Can Do (Chapter One).”
Then last October, seven other tracks were added to the EP to form the full-length album, also called “What A Song Can Do.”
The latest 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 up-tempo 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.”
On the road
The new releases are being represented in Lady A’s concerts this year — including a July 23 stop at the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello. But most of the set figures to made up of the group’s No. 1 hits and other singles.
“Yeah, ‘What A Song Can Do,’ the song itself, will definitely be in the show. ‘Like A Lady’ is our (follow-up) 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,” he noted. “It’s brought us all here to doing what we’re doing here today. So I’m very grateful for that.”