'It fills my heart': Country music jumps into fight for racial justice after Floyd killing
Country music reacts to "Lady Antebellum" changing its name to "Lady A" in the aftermath of anti-racism protests over the death of George Floyd. USA TODAY
Lady A rebranded and Mickey Guyton, one of the industry's top Black female artists, released a powerful new song. More is required of us all in this battle.
When people think about country music and politics, the conversation almost immediately turns to the Dixie Chicks. The group’s career Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Florida Georgia Line, Maren Morris, Brad Paisley, and Luke Combs took part in the #BlackoutTuesday social media initiative,. Music labels like Universal, Warner, Sony, BMG, and Big Machine closed their offices for the day and instructed their employees to disconnect from work and learn more about the racial and social injustices happening in our country.
Poignant Lady Antebellum rebranding
Many artists, including Darius Rucker and Thomas Rhett, have posted poignant and deeply personal messages reacting to the killing of George Floyd and their overall feelings about the culture of police brutality against people of color. Taylor Swift, arguably music’s biggest star but who still has her roots in country, tweeted a long thread denouncing Confederate statues. "As a Tennessean, it makes me sick that there are monuments standing in our state that celebrate racist historical figures who did evil things," she wrote.
Perhaps the most unexpected expression of change came from Lady Antebellum, one of the most successful and recognizable groups in country music history, with a name usually associated with the pre-Civil War South. The group posted this announcement on social media: “We’ve watched and listened more than ever these last few weeks, and our hearts have been stirred with conviction, our eyes opened to the injustices, inequality, and biases black women and men have always faced and continue to face every day. Now blind spots we didn’t even know existed have been revealed.
"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 and move forward as Lady A, the nickname our fans gave us almost from the start.”
In an industry where your name is your brand and in a format that has struggled in the past with issues related to race and equality, Lady A’s actions represent a real leadership moment for the country music community. “The decision to change their name is deeply and thoroughly thought out and comes with a huge emotional toll and risk,” Scott Borchetta, the President and CEO of Lady A’s music label, Big Machine Label Group, told me last weekend. “There’s no way to gauge in advance what fans will think of such a decision. Great artists lead their fans and Lady A leads with their hearts.”
first Black artist to launch his career with a No. 1 hit at country radio, said he is gratified by the country music response. “As I watch so many people fighting for equality for all, it fills my heart," he told me. "We all have our role to play and we all move at different speeds — and that’s okay. Some are propelled into action, some are listening and some are educating. At the end of the day, it’s all about progressing with love, chasing the end goal of equality for ALL, no matter what we look like or where we are from. Lady A felt compelled to change their name and I applaud them for following their heart. We must always lead with love.”
'What matters is they are trying'
In the wake of everything that has happened with police brutality and as protests spread nationwide, Mickey Guyton, one of the industry's top Black female artists, released a powerful new song called “Black Like Me,” that chronicles some of the struggles she has faced throughout her life as a person of color. The song echoes a reality that the Mickey Guytons and Jimmie Allens of the world live with every moment of every day. They don’t have the luxury of choosing to address racism and inequality. It’s a constant presence lurking around every interaction they have.
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