Friday, May 6, 2011

Can't get past the name: Lady Antebellum

The first time I heard the band name "Lady Antebellum," I thought they would be a bunch of Brooks & Dunn-type rednecks (Brooks & Dunn was one of the few musical groups that performed at George W. Bush events). Otherwise, why would they have chosen a name that glorifies the pre-Civil War south of slavery?

Last night Lady Antebellum appeared on the American Idol results show, and I found myself surprised to enjoy their music. Nowadays it's fairly unusual to have male-female lead singers, as they do. They didn't sound like southern rednecks. (I'm not really a fan of country music, unless it's Dixie Chicks, Nancy Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Johnny Cash, or Dolly Parton. Scotty McCreery [on American Idol] is my least-favorite contestant.])

The band claims that their name is derived from antebellum architecture, not the antebellum period; however, an article in the Augusta Chronicle (which I could not find online) apparently states that they came up with the name after dressing up in confederate clothing.

This excellent blog post, written by Tami, an African-American woman, "Lady Antebellum and the glorification of the pre-Civil War south," astutely examines the complicated issues around this band's choice of names. She shares an anecdote of two women she knew actually longing, in her presence, to go back to antebellum times in the south...they were glamorizing the life of Scarlett O'Hara, and of course all Tami could think of was how horrible it would be to Mammy.
"...mention the antebellum South or the Confederacy, and some Americans grow starry-eyed. No one thinks of the more than 10 million enslaved Africans who died in the Middle Passage or on some plantation or small farm. No one thinks of the people who were denied their freedom and humanity so that the Southern economy could rise, and that all those Rhetts and Scarletts could sit in their fine houses, showing off their fancy clothes and manners. That America forgets my ancestors, while longing for the "glory days" that their enslavement made possible, is offensive."
The comments on Tami's blog post are full of great debate about the nature of racism in America and whether it's worse in the south or the north. I felt gratified to learn how many other people have been shocked by the name of this now-popular band.

It's possible that the young band members do not realize how loaded this word is. Perhaps they were intentionally being provocative with the name to garner more attention. Or maybe they were taught about the "war of northern aggression" as children and view those times with rose-colored glasses. It's called white privilege.

As I've commented before, language has tremendous power. I wonder what Randy Jackson thought when he learned this band would be performing.


  1. The group knew exactly what they were doing when they named the band. The female has body art on her right wrist - the number 14. This stands for 14 words in the white pride creed. So I used to listen to them but I won't anymore.

    1. I don't understand how people can twist the truth.
      The 14 is for the years between her and her sister, and the age she knew she wanted to sing. (Double meaning). And they were honoring the architect and beauty of the homes. Really a shame you you can't see past that.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Anyone who uses a name that represents a racist past in America knows exactly what they are doing. They might have come up with the name while visiting an old Civil War-era plantation home, but you cannot get away from the fact that "antebellum" means a whole lot more than architecture.

  3. Man, this really hurts because I love their music. I sucks that these people chose such a name.

  4. Lady Antebellum Tells Katie Couric How They Got Their Name and Didn’t Think They’d Get to Keep it

    by Rudy Fernandez November 16, 2013 1:27 AM

    It’s no secret that Katie Couric is a big fan of Lady Antebellum, so on Fridays (Nov.13) show when Katie had the trio on, she was ready with a list of questions. Many of which Couric’s fans submitted and a few of her own. One question Katie asked was how they got their name, Charles Kelley said they were on a photo shoot when they came up with it. Kelley went on to say “we thought for sure our record company would make us change it.”

    Read More: Lady Antebellum Tells Katie Couric How They Got Their Name |