Spotify’s removal of Lilli Lewis’ new record reinvigorates fight over the name Lady A.
A popular coping mechanism throughout the outrageousness of 2020 was the social media trend of keeping track of what you didn’t expect to be on your 2020 bingo card. One item that certainly qualified was popular country band, Lady Antebellum, trying to steal the stage name of Black blues singer, Anita White. Over a year later, the fight for the rights to the name “Lady A” is still boiling over — and the scales are unfortunately not tipping in White’s favor. This past weekend, Spotify went so far as to remove an entire newly released album by New Orleans singer-songwriter Lilli Lewis, just for featuring White on one track.
It all started in June 2020 as a dizzying feat of irony in which the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum publicly changed their name to Lady A. It was a gesture in step with those that many public entities were making at the time — that also saw the Dixie Chicks rebrand as The Chicks — and was meant to distance the band from their slavery-adjacent moniker while nationwide Black Lives Matter protests were dominating the social discourse. Their statement at the time read, “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...We are regretful and embarrassed to say that we did not take into account the associations that weigh down this word…We are deeply sorry for the hurt this has caused and for anyone who has felt unsafe, unseen or unvalued.”
While widely ridiculed as an act of performative wokeness, they took their cringey publicity stunt to new levels of white nonsense, by refusing to back down when the news went viral that Seattle-based White had been going by Lady A for over twenty years. The fact that Anita White was lesser known than themselves seemed to be something Lady Antebellum wanted to use in their favor. In a gross separate but equal kind of suggestion, they wanted both acts to copacetically go by Lady A. It was a desire that was not just condescending and self-serving, but encapsulated all of the racist white privilege that their original name change was trying to eschew. After negotiations failed to please both parties, country Lady A sued blues Lady A for the rights to what they claimed was already a band nickname that they had trademarked for years. And while legally that’s a fair case, their insistence on harming the career of a Black singer is still confounding. Anita White has countersued, and both suits have yet to be settled.
The issue still isn’t done causing harm to Black women. Lilli Lewis and Anita White began collaborating during the pandemic in an online support group for Black female artists called Sista Gurls—of which Lewis called White the “spiritual center.” Lewis was working on her album Americana at the time, and invited women from the group, including White, on a gospel track called “A Healing Inside.” But just weeks after the album’s October 29th release, a time that is crucial for new album promotion, Lewis discovered that her link to share the album on Spotify wasn’t working as she tried to submit Americana to a playlist for showcase presenters at the Folk Alliance Conference.
After inquiring with her distributor, who asked Spotify for an explanation, Lewis’ team was told by Spotify, “This was held in review and blocked due to Lady A being listed as a featured artist on a track. Please confirm you have the relevant sound recording, trademark, and composition rights for the product. Best regards, Spotify Content Protection.” While internet backlash and clarification from Lewis quickly led to Spotify reinstating the album on the streaming service by this past Monday, Lewis pointed out to Nola.com, “They felt compelled to pull the entire album, not just the song in question. They didn’t give us a heads-up, and didn’t tell us how to fix it.”
The incident speaks to how misguided and blind Lady Antebellum’s insistence was that the two acts could continue business as usual under the same name without it affecting anyone adversely. Lewis continued, “Stuff like this proves that coexisting is more complicated than they might have calculated. I’m thankful that it happened. It proved the point that Anita has been trying to make all along: that people are impacted by this. And it’s not just her. Anybody that she collaborates with is impacted by this.” And while this upset has increased awareness again on the the plight of Anita White, Lady Antebellum has made no comment that they are aware of or care about the continued impact of their actions that led to Lewis’ record being temporarily removed from Spotify.
Lewis pointed out the insidiousness of the forced renaming of a Black artist by a white, southern country band, and how it’s a 21st century mirror of the way slaves were forcibly renamed by white oppressors. She explained, “They took our names, and decided we would be called whatever they chose. It blows my mind that this is still happening. The fact that they are causing actual harm…it’s repulsive.” Lady Antebellum’s actions against Lady A show the harm that performative activism can have, in that it’s not just hollow, but refuses to grapple with potential ripple affects caused by its lack of understanding. Lady Antebellum’s attempted erasure of Lady A is the Instagram black square of music. Luckily Lewis’ music has been restored on Spotify, but Anita White is still fighting for the right to what she’s put decades of work into. One would hope continued issues like these would help Lady Antebellum to see and correct the error in their ways — but like with most things white privilege, they seem reluctant to concede anything they’ve self-proclaimed their rights to.