Music is My Life: Episode 054

Lady A on Musical Life and Legal Battle with Band Formerly Known as Lady Antebellum

Seattle-based singer Lady A

Lady A is a singer based in Seattle, who has been singing since the age of 5, and who now in her 60s is more well known than she has ever been, thanks in part to her ongoing legal dispute with the band formerly known as Lady Antebellum, a band which wants to shorten their name to … Lady A. I did reach out to the Nashville trio who are going by the Lady A moniker about appearing on the Music Is My Life podcast, but a representative respectfully declined the offer.

Since information on the Seattle-based Lady A’s story at the time of this recording was minimal, I admitted to her that some of my research was coming from Wikipedia, and she says she has several objections to the post about her, the biggest one being that the entry lists her as Anita White for disambiguation purposes.

She has been performing for 55 years, and has been a full-time musician at multiple points in her life, but she says she prefers to hold down a day job to keep her grounded. She works as an administrator for the city of Seattle. She also hosts three different radio shows, works for several social action initiatives, and still finds time to sing in her church choir. She says her interest in music started early because everyone in her family was involved in music. This includes her niece, who goes by UMI, who you also need to check out, if you haven’t already. Let’s let Lady A tell you all about it.

Lady A: My mother was a gospel singer, my father was a drummer, my brother is a drummer, and my niece is a very well-known artist right now in her own right, UMI, spelled U-M-I. You can look her up. She gets more hits than I do on Twitter. This whole tweeting and Twitter thing is still new for me. I don’t get on much.

But, I come from a musical family. My grandmother played a lot of music whenever I would stay with her and I stayed a lot of weekends with my grandmother. So I get the James Brown, O.V. Wright, Betty Wright, Millie Jackson, Denise LaSalle, and Bobby Rush. I get that from my grandmother. The gospel side I get from my mom, so I grew up listening to Mahalia Jackson, Rev. James Cleveland, Rev. James Moore, that kind of thing.

And my dad liked jazz, so I’m into the John Handy and Jimmy Smith, and things like that. And then I like country music and classical music that I just kind of gleaned on my own as I was getting older.

I grew up singing in church at the age of five. I was in the young people’s choir, the children’s choir. And I began as a choir director at the age of 16 because we found out, quite by accident, our piano player quit on us one day. We used to have what’s called Annual Days in our church for the young adults and I was in the young adult choir—well, youth choir—and he quit on us. And we were like, “What are we going to do?” And I said, “Oh, you know what? We can sing. I’ll just teach parts.” And it just came to me naturally. I don’t even know what made me think I could do it. I just did it.

I sang in church choirs for years before I even thought about singing on stage. I really didn’t have an inclination to sing on stage. A friend of mine, Sonny Byers, used to take me to karaoke clubs, and we’d sing at these karaoke clubs. And then, and that was like the early ’70s, we’d go sing in these karaoke clubs. [Laughter] And then he asked me to sing background in his Motown revue, so I sang in the Sonny Byers Motown Revue in the ’80s.

Pat Healy: Yeah?
Yeah, I was a background singer. I had one song to sing where I actually led a song and I was so nervous. I’d have to have a glass of wine before I would sing because I was used to having my back to the audience. As a choir director, you have your back to the audience. You’re in control because you’re only looking at the choir. To have to look at all these people, I was like, “What? Nah!” [Laughter] So, that’s how I got my start.

Were you taking lessons or … basically when you’re in a choir, that’s kind of how you receive the knowledge about how to sing, pretty much, right?
Right, pretty much, yeah because we’re taught parts. We all had our parts to sing. And not only that, I mean, singing in the choir gave you structure, singing harmony, being able to sing harmony, march, and clap, all at the same time. So yeah, I mean, for me church was how I started learning just the basics of what to do.

How big of a choir are we talking?
Back then, the youth choir, there were at least 25 of us.

Woah, that’s a lot of people.
Yeah, all the kids. We all went to school. I mean, we didn’t go to school together, but we went to church together. We went to Bible study together, choir rehearsal, BTU, the whole thing. We could be in church from Monday nights, Wednesday nights, Friday nights, Saturday, and Sunday.

Would you also play music with your family at home, too, coming from such a musical family?
No, because my mom and I, I mean, we all went to the same church, but my sisters, they sang in the choir and I was with my mom singing in the choir as I get older. Because as you get older, you moved from one choir to the next, from the youth choir to the young adult choir to the gospel choir to the Mass choir. And the Mass choir consisted of all of those choirs at once and you sang once a month. But singing at home? No, because I was an athlete. I would play records: I played records a lot. But most of the time, I was either playing basketball, volleyball, or running track. That’s what I was doing. I’d sing on the bus. But no, not really sing with my family outside of church.

So, what kind of records were you playing? Basically the stuff you were mentioning earlier?
Yeah, I listened to a lot of jazz. I remember coming up, like I said, Jimmy Smith was big. I really liked Jimmy Smith, John Handy. And then listening to my gospel records, like James Cleveland, because I would teach parts and teach music, so I would listen to a lot of choir music. Mattie Moss Clark, and that kind of thing.

So, you’re having a glass of wine before karaoke, when did you finally get the confidence to just really own it?
You know what? People are going to be surprised, but I sang for years. Like I said, I sang in the Sonny Byers Motown Revue. And then Louise Thompson—she used to own Thompson’s Point of View here in Seattle, Washington—heard me sing. And she said, “Can you put a band together and come and sing for us?” And I didn’t have a band at that time, but the guys that I played with I just asked them, I said, “She wants me to come sing. I don’t have a band. Come and sing with me.” Well, we did it once and then she wanted us to come and do it again.

That’s great.
Yeah, so then I had to come up with a name, because it was just Lady A. Then I had to come up with a name for the band, so I came up with Lady A and the Baby Blues Funk Band, because we did a lot of funk. Not so much blues. The guys really liked playing funk. We’d do a few blues tunes. So, I sang all this music that I really didn’t … well, as time went along, that I started to not really enjoy. And so, when you say when did my confidence come in? I was going to stop singing at the age of 50. I had decided, “I’m done with this. I’m singing every single night, I’m going to work, and I’m not singing what I want to sing.”

And the guys in the band said, “No, you need to put out a CD,” because we were really successful. We really were. We were successful. We were a successful band doing quite well. They wanted to do a CD and I said, “Okay, I’ll do one because I really wasn’t comfortable onstage.” And we did the one CD, which was Bluez In the Key of Me, which was my first CD. Very first CD I ever wrote any songs. And after that, it just kind of trickled down, but really my confidence level—I mean, I stopped drinking way before that—but my confidence level really came, I think my second CD after my bass player passed away.

Did one thing lead to another? I mean, did the confidence …
Yeah. Because we got our … I was asked to go to Europe and do a tour in Europe. And I said, “Well, I’m not going if my band can’t go.” [Laughter] I mean, how many people actually say that when somebody asks you to go to Europe? I had never been before. So to me, it was like, “Well, if you’re not bringing my band, I’m not coming.” And my band members were like, “Are you crazy?!” But I did. I was able to take my piano player, who is my only one remaining band member that is still with me. John Oliver III has been with me for 20+ years and they allowed me to bring him with me.

After I got a touch of going to Europe, and I was working with United By Music of Europe, which is an organization that works with intellectually disabled individuals, helps them perform onstage. And they wanted me to come and teach these young people about performing on stage and they put a tour together for me. And it was great and even the tour was wonderful. I got to go to the Netherlands and Sweden and Denmark and Germany and all these different places. And for me, the best part of it was working with the United By Music folks, because they’re still my friends today. Yeah, I love them to death. Candye Kane was their original mentor with Joris van Wijngaarden. It was fun, so after that, I learned, “You know what? I need to kick myself in the butt,” and I came back with this whole new attitude. [Laughter]

And this is within the past 10 years, right?
Yeah, yeah. Isn’t that something?

That is something because you’ve been doing it for so long, but you didn’t have the oomph until …
Right. I didn’t. I mean, it’s okay to make money and we were making money. We were doing very, very well. Lady A and the Baby Blues Funk Band, but I wasn’t singing the music that I wanted to sing. And you get to a certain age, when I turned 50, I was like, “It’s all about me,” [Laughter] thus the reason my first CD is called Bluez in the Key of Me.

Yeah, with the “Z,” too.
Yeah, with the Z. Because you come to a point in your life where you figure, either I’m doing this because it makes me happy or I need to find a reason why I’m doing this because the late nights when I have a day job were starting to wear on me. At one point I did, but that was early in my career when I was drinking. I wanted to see if I could just do nothing but sing. So, I quit my job and I sang for three months and it was horrible. I drank too much. I slept too much. And I said, “Oh, no. I got to go back to work. This is not working for me.”

So, everything comes in its season, I believe, because after that, I went back to work. I stopped drinking, not that I was drinking excessively. It’s just that if you’re drinking to the point where you just drink to be drinking, there’s no reason for me.

Yeah. And plus, it’s just so all around in the clubs with the downtime and …
Yeah. And I’m sure you’re not as old as me. I mean, this is when you …

I’m close!
Well, then, maybe you remember when you could smoke in the clubs?

Yes, I do remember that.
Yeah, smoking. I mean, I remember when you could smoke on the airplane, so to show you how old I am, but to smoke in the club. I mean, I quit smoking, I quit drinking. It just came with the season of life. And so, the confidence, and I mentor kids here in the Seattle area with the Rhapsody Music Project. And what I try to get over to them, along with Joe Seamons and Ben Hunter, is that when we’re teaching the kids, for me, my part is, know who you are, get to know who you are. Had I known who I was early on, rather than just doing it because it was a lot of fun and I got notoriety from it. I mean, I loved music, I just wasn’t … it took me a while to figure out, “You know what? I don’t really like what I’m singing. I want to sing something different.”

What in particular? Well, I guess if we could go back a little bit, did you enjoy singing the stuff in the Motown Revue Band?
Yeah, it was fun. Yeah, I’m old school, so I liked it. I liked it a lot. And from that, I mean, I can’t take anything from that because Sonny Byers singing in the Sonny Byers Motown Revue led me to being a lead vocalist. He asked me to sing lead, and I did. I was nervous every time I would get onstage. See, I’m nervous now when I get onstage. But other than that …

But that’s good. I mean, it’s a sense of like, if you weren’t, it wouldn’t necessarily mean as much.
Right. I never take it for granted because I think that every audience is different. I don’t care how many times I may get a repeat … I don’t call people fans. I call them my family, my musical family. It doesn’t matter how many times a musical family member might come and see me, there’s always somebody new in the audience and somebody that comes and supports, and sees us perform, I want the show to be new to them every time they come.

So, for me, I’m nervous because it’s like, “Okay, I got to do what I do. I got to pour into these folks and let them know that I care about the fact that they’re repeat customers or they’re repeat clients or they’re repeat musical family members that come. And then give a show to those new ones. So yeah, I still get nervous when I do a show. [Laughter] And it’s funny, because the guys tease me about it and they’ll say, “You need to go have a drink.” I’m like, “I don’t drink but … I’ll be okay.” Once I hit the stage, I’m fine.

Yeah. It’s just that time right before, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s that time, right before. It doesn’t matter how big the show is or how small the show is. I do a back porch, well, I was before COVID. Because I play in front of thousands of people, but I really like when I come home and I’m able to do my Back Porch Blues show because it’s more of a sit-down intimate show. I play at this club called Egan’s and it doesn’t hold more than 50 people. You get 50 people in this club. I get to sit down and tell stories, talk about the music, talk about my travels, talk about the lyrics that I write. And then if I have friends that are in town or local artists that stop by, put them onstage. I find people who can sing in the audience. [Laughter]

That’s fun.
Audience members, yeah and tell stories because I believe that what we do is about storytelling, lyrics retelling a story, whether it’s about our lives, period, about what’s going on in the world, or what’s going on in relationships.

Yeah, I have to admit, I wasn’t familiar with your music before this whole [name controversy]. And to tell you the truth, I’m now more familiar with your music than the other band who is now calling themselves Lady A.
Yeah.

But listening to it, you mentioned the lyrics and that’s one of the things that I couldn’t help but take note of. They’re like fearless lyrics, just things like, “I grew up on cabbage and cornbread.”
Yeah. [Laughter]

It’s just so uniquely you.
And that song was written by my brother, my Seattle producer, my “play” brother, John Oliver III. We’re intentional about lyrics, because like I said, the music that I used to sing before, I mean, I used to curse on stage and people loved it. I’d cuss the audience out, they’d be all happy about it. But as I got older, the fact that I was going by Lady A really did mean I had to be intentional about the fact that I am a lady. My name is Anita, but Lady A is my professional name. And what do I want that to look like?

If I’m talking to kids or if I’m mentoring intellectually disabled folks, or if I’m mentoring young people, what do I want my name to say to them and my lyrics? So, the lyrics are intentional. “Cabbage and Cornbread” was written by John about his mom cooking in the kitchen. “Honey Hush” is written about my grandmother. I wrote that song about my grandmother and every lyric in that song is true. Back in the day on 22nd and Pine. My grandmother lived on 22nd and Pine. I remember that like it was yesterday.

And the words to “Moan Instead of Sing,” where you’re talking about the specific time and going and playing in a certain place.
Right. Going out to Clarksdale, Mississippi. That song was written about Clarksdale going down to Red’s and the Sunflower Festivals because Juke Joint is in April down in Clarksville. If you’ve never been, go! [Laughter]

 

Okay.
I’ve been a couple of times. It is amazing! And it’s like within a four-block, I mean, you could walk everywhere you want and there’s all these little juke joints. So that song was written about that. I think that lyrics are important and because I love to listen to people’s lyrics, if the lyrics don’t hit me, I’m probably not going to listen. If you’re cussing a lot, I ain’t going to listen. Now, you can say a cuss word or two and I’ll be alright as long as you ain’t calling nobody a B, all that kind of stuff. But lyrics for me, they need to be intentional. What are you trying to tell me? Because then I’m going to feel it. Because I’ll wear a groove in a song. If I really like it, I’m going to play it again and again and again and again.

Well, that’s one thing also. I was looking at the not infallible Wikipedia entry where it says, “Her own music’s subject matter has included racial activism such as about the shooting of Trayvon Martin and the killing of George Floyd.” What are those songs? I couldn’t necessarily find the George Floyd one.
So, right, well, so the George Floyd one … I’m surprised. I need to go read that! I have not read that part.

Somebody knows a lot about you!
I guess I need to go read it because the George Floyd song … and it’s not [specifically] a George Floyd song. “The Truth is Loud” is the name of the song and I actually wrote it before I began writing it before George Floyd was murdered. Then he was murdered, and I finished it. And “The Truth is Loud,” it’s not just talking about him. It’s talking about the murders of Black people in the streets that are televised, like it’s okay and it reminds you of the lynchings that used to happen where white people would stand around and bring their children and watch lynchings. That’s what it reminds me of.

 

It also talks about the homelessness. I’m an activist in my church about homelessness. We really try to get out and help those that are homeless, because it’s not just the fact that they don’t have anywhere to live. It’s also their mental state. It talks about immigration laws, so “The Truth is Loud” is talking about most of those things. The song that you’re referring to with Trayvon Martin was written … “Change the World,” and that’s …

Yeah, I know that one. Yeah.
Yeah, that was “Change the World” and actually, I’d written that song, like four years ago when Trayvon Martin was killed, I wrote it and then I didn’t release it because I was so angry and I needed to find a way to curb being so angry at that time, because all this has been building up. Trauma is real for Black Indigenous people of this land and people of color. We survive and we go through and we get through, but that trauma is real. And for me, I need to, I put it in my lyrics and sometimes I can’t release certain songs that I write, because it’s not the right time. And “Change the World,” I finally released it, I believe after Eric Garner was killed. It just … it’s just a lot. It’s a lot, so …

Trauma is real for Black Indigenous people of this land and people of color. We survive and we go through and we get through, but that trauma is real. @TheRealLadyA Click To Tweet

Yeah. I think you picked the right time to release “My Name is All I Got,” for sure.
Definitely. And we all know why I released that.

Yeah. Well, I mean, how much are you able to talk about this whole thing with the group that now wants to call themselves Lady A officially?
Well, I mean, I can’t tell you any more than that’s already out there. I mean, we’re waiting. I mean, of course, we’re going to court, but with the courts being backed up during COVID, we’re just in a waiting period right now. But my thing with them is and I don’t even say their names anymore …

Right. I was careful to say, “the group who now wants to call themselves Lady A.”
Yeah. And the fact that they have people who support them, like the Grand Ole Opry had them on. And the thing about it is, I don’t follow them, but thank God for my musical family out there. I love each and every one of you, who tag me in things. And I read some of it and some of it I don’t. Some of it I ignore because there are still hateful people out there. The one thing that I always stress to anybody who follows me, whether on any social media platform is that you do not call them names. I understand your frustration because believe me, I’m frustrated, but name calling doesn’t help. You can call them out though because as an activist, that’s why I’m calling them out.

The fact that they tried to say that they were “woke.” And again, I always quote them as saying that their “eyes were opened and [their] hearts were stirred,” that’s what they wrote. That’s what they put out in the public in light of the George Floyd murders, saying that they wanted to be an ally. That’s all BS. And I can say that because it is, because otherwise you would not have …. You shortened your name, you didn’t change your name. They said they wanted to change their name. Shortening it to A does not change the connotation of antebellum.

We all know what antebellum is about. You can say it’s pre-Civil War. You can say all that nonsense you want to, but that’s antebellum behavior. So for me that’s where the activist in me comes out. It’s okay that you want to change your name. I think that you should have if you felt bad about it. I don’t know why you did, because you’d had it for 10 years. Antebellum was your name for 10 years, and people told you about it before and you ignored it. So, it’s a publicity stunt, is what you did and you tried to be “woke,” and then to continue to dig your heels in shows your behavior.

Antebellum was your name for 10 years, and people told you about it before and you ignored it. So, a publicity stunt is what you did and you tried to be woke, and then to continue to dig your heels in shows your behavior. @TheRealLadyA Click To Tweet

Right. And especially, I mean, look who they’re arguing with.
Exactly, exactly. And people can say what they want about me. I am worth $10 million. I am worth more. I don’t know what worth people put on themselves, but I’m a child of God, and I’m worth a lot more. So, people can be upset about the fact that I asked for money to rebrand myself. They could have rebranded themselves for much less than the court costs that they’re paying now for all this. It makes no sense, so that shows their behavior. I’m not calling them names, but when you have a behavior, and people aren’t dumb. People aren’t stupid.

The Black community, Indigenous people of this land, and people of color, we are tired of white people insulting our intelligence, just because we don’t say anything sometimes does not mean we don’t know what you’re doing or what you’re trying to do. And in this instance, I think that if you’re going to be an ally or claim to be an ally, it will require that you give up something, that you put your money where your mouth is, that you actually learn to listen and help those who have been disenfranchised, and those who have been living under your privilege. We don’t have those same privileges! And this is big corporation, big money. It’s all about their money and at this point, is just about saving face for them. Yeah, because why? You could have rebranded yourself three times by now or gone back to your name.

Right, right, or yeah, I mean, well, the Dixie Chicks is a different story, because they didn’t … there wasn’t a group of Black women who already had the name the Chicks.
Correct!

But the fact that they are putting their feet down against a Black woman is probably the …
Right. It doesn’t look good. And so, you’re exhibiting a behavior that you say you’re trying to get away from. So I’m trying to wrap my head around that, but really not, not really, because for me, it’s business as usual in America. It is. No, you know what? This is what I tell people who are allies and people who—whether you support one side or the other doesn’t matter to me. I let God fight my battles, which is why you don’t hear me say a whole lot about it.

I did a lot of interviews in the beginning because I needed to. I don’t have the money that they have. I don’t have the power they have. What I have is my name and why should I allow you to take my name from me? When you said that you were changing your name, which you didn’t do. You shortened your name and when you said that it was in the wake of the George Floyd murder. So, if that’s true, then take your knee off my neck.

Do you have a court date yet?
No. We’re just waiting.

Okay. And I mean, I’m nervous for you about the amount it will cost for you to go to court.
No. You know what? This is what I mean when I say that God is fighting my battles. I have been blessed with Cooley LLP, which is one of the top litigation attorneys in the country. And they took my case on, pro bono.

That’s so great.
Yeah, they have been absolutely fantastic. They have a pro bono office. They took my case and they’re incredible people. This really did not have to go this far. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they can come on your show, on anybody’s show, they need to come just the same way they came out and said they were going to change their name. Go to all these magazines and go on television and they can say that Black lives really don’t matter to them and I will give them the name. But until you do that, I am not going to roll over. It doesn’t matter at this point if, because people will say, “You’ll lose in the court.” It doesn’t matter at this point.

The point is you are showing your behavior, you’re exhibiting the very behavior that you said you wanted to get away from, and everybody sees it. Now those that follow you and all those people that follow you and think that it’s okay, which even their fans, I mean, I’ve seen some of this stuff their fans have said that they never should have changed their name. They shouldn’t have! They never should have changed their name. Their name was fine the way it was: That’s the behavior you’re exhibiting, so you should have kept the name.

Right. And so, what’s at stake, though, for you is not your name, right? Because I mean, you did call yourself this long before they even existed?
I was Lady A before they were born! So, I mean, I’m proud of my age. It’s a luxury, a luxury they can’t afford is to get older. But the thing about it is that I don’t lose anything. What I do lose is they are doing the very thing that they said they wouldn’t do, which is erase me. They are trying to erase me, which is what white people have done for centuries to Black people, to Indigenous people of this land, and to people of color. You erase us, you erase our culture, our language, you appropriate our music. That is what needs to stop. And as an activist, I’m not just going to roll over and let it be easy for you.

They are trying to erase me, which is what white people have done for centuries to Black people, to Indigenous people of this land, and to people of color. You erase us, you erase our culture, our language, you appropriate our music. @TheRealLadyA Click To Tweet

Even after it’s over—with however this comes out—and I’m a forgiving person. Not to say that I would never forgive them because there’s always redemption. People can always come back and say they’re sorry, but when you dig your heels in constantly, that means that you can’t be, you know? That’s awful. It’s an awful thing. You said that Black lives matter to you. Why did you say that if you didn’t mean it? That would be a question for me. Why did you say it if you didn’t mean it? So, as an activist, I can’t let that slide. Will you erase me? No, because I’m always going to be out here grinding doing what I have to do.

I love how in the introduction to your How Did I Get Here? album from 2013, the announcer says, “The one and only Lady A,” it’s almost like somewhere you anticipated this.
[Laughter] No. I tell you, God has a plan for everything. John Oliver III, who I was talking about, my producer and my longest band member, he’s been with me the longest from the beginning. When we were Lady A and the Baby Blues Funk Band, he would always say, “People react to you when you come onstage. We need an introduction. This needs to be a show because these people love you.” And I’d be like, “Dude, let’s just start playing and singing.” And he’d go, “No, no, no, no. You really need to be introduced.”

So, he would begin introducing me at shows. They would not, the band would not let me come onstage. And I wasn’t used to that, I mean, and nobody else was really doing it, here in Seattle anyway. I was a local artist and yeah, I was traveling to different places, but he wanted to introduce me and so it started with the shows. But then on that album, How Did I Get Here?, which I wrote while I was in Europe. Most of the songs were written while John and I were both in Europe become our bass player had passed away. Yeah, and he didn’t get to tour with us. And he and John and I, we were the ones who wrote the songs together and they would arrange songs for me. And he said, “I am putting this on here.” And I said, “That introduction?” And he says, “Yes.” I just let them do whatever they want. [Laughter]

It works. It’s like prophetic, almost.
Yeah, yeah. Things happen for a reason. I really do believe that and I think things will work out and they will work out in my favor. The only thing with “My Name is All I Got,” I wrote … I’ve never written a song about another band or another person like that, but this was necessary. As I said, this is traumatizing for me. It really is! I was a nervous wreck those first few months. I mean, I was supposed to be writing more music and getting a CD out for this year. I wasn’t able to do that because most of my time was spent with attorneys and with my team and trying to figure out what the next move was and doing interviews. I was on what I call the interview tour, well, for a while.

You’re doing one more gig here!
Yeah, and trying to figure out how to work in a period of COVID during this pandemic. A lot of my friends have passed away.

I’m sorry to hear that.
Yeah. Well, all of us, all of us are dealing with that across the country. So, it’s not just me, but adding that nonsense to it—because it’s nonsense—and not just saying, “You know what? We’re going to change our name, like we said we were and get on with our lives.” And everybody walks away happy because you don’t have to pay me a dime, to walk away and go change your name like you said that you were going to do.

Because as I said from the beginning, my career was doing very well. I was looking forward to retiring from my day job and being that full-time musician. I had planned on spending three months in Sweden with some musician friends of mine, and then coming back. All this was planned before COVID, but God has a way of saying “some things need to change.” And it has elevated me too . . . I have new listeners, which thank you for the free publicity.

They can say that Black lives really don’t matter to them and I will give them the name. But until you do that, I am not going to roll over. @TheRealLadyA on @LadyA Click To Tweet

Yeah, I mean, that’s what I was going to ask you is that there must be some goodness that’s come out of all this?
Yeah. There’s always good that comes out of it even when you’re going through chaos. I like listeners to know that. That’s what the lyrics of my song, I try to inspire and encourage people. So, yes, I have new listeners, I have some great people who have emailed me from across the country, but they’re having a hard time finding me! And when they do find me, that’s what they say, “We got a hard time finding you, finding your music.” They go to my website, because you can barely find me on iTunes and Amazon and these are social media platforms that I pay to be on.

So, yeah, you’re ladyababyblues.com and they’re ladyamusic.com, is that right?
I have no idea what they are. [Laughter] I have never been to their website.

I don’t think anybody has just straight up ladya.com?
No. I even had a gentleman reach out to me and he bought up all these Lady A sites and …

The website at ladya.com as it stood in February, 2021.

Really?
Yeah. He bought them all right after the controversy. He bought them all, because he said he didn’t want them to have them. Yeah, but they’ve already been … I don’t know what they were before because I never listened to them. They were Lady Antebellum, so I assumed that their site was ladyantebellum.com or whatever it was. I don’t know what it is. There are great people out there that support and I am so grateful and blessed and then there are the haters out there. And the people that I know are just hateful people, but that’s not new for me.

I like how you call out the people who are true allies in the country music circle in that song.
Yes. Definitely. Yeah. Margo Price when she wrote that the Grand Ole Opry should invite me to come and open for Lady Antebellum. I thought, “Wow, that’s an ally. That’s somebody sticking their neck out.” That is and when Bettye LaVette said, “Leave us our name. You take our music, our culture, our language, at least leave us our name.” For Bettye LaVette, and I’ve been a Bettye LaVette fan forever, and for her to even say that. Chris Stapleton said that Black lives matter. I believe in thanking people.

I run a site, well, not a site. I run a discussion called “The Truth is Loud,” named after the song, which you go to thetruthisloud.info I need to update it. It’s been a couple of months, but I run a discussion for white allies. We talk about race because I believe that white people need to talk to their children and their family members about race because they don’t do it. We’re taught from the time we come out of the womb when we can go to school, we’re taught how to talk to the police, how to act in school, how to … especially if we’re going to a white school like I did when I was young. And I believe that that’s important, because racism is a learned behavior. That’s why I say it. That’s why I talk about behavior a lot. A learned behavior.

If you grow up never being around anybody of color, that’s one thing. But if you grow up not being around anybody of color and then just because you go to school with people of color and you start behaving like those people around you, because you hear them use the N word or you hear them bullying a person of color, a Black person, an Indigenous person, that’s a behavior. You can unlearn that. You can, you know? And so, I run this discussion and it’s thetruthisloud.info. There’s information there for allies. People want to be allies and then I run a discussion. The next discussion probably is going to be in April. We just talk about race and how it intertwines with your life.

We, at our work, we’re doing a lot of racism training. And one of the things that we often get into is just we’re reading a lot of literature and there’s a component that’s like “it’s not the responsibility of your Black coworkers to educate you.” And I totally hear that, but it’s …
Well, I believe that only to a point. I believe that if you want to be an ally, you need to educate yourself.

If you’re going to be an ally or claim to be an ally, it will require that you give up something, that you put your money where your mouth is, that you actually learn to listen and help those who have been disenfranchised. @TheRealLadyA Click To Tweet

Yeah, true.
You need to go out there and read books and watch videos, or whatever. But I think you actually have to have the conversation with somebody of color and Black folks and Indigenous people, because you only learn your mistakes when you have those true and open conversations. Are your feelings going to get hurt? Yes. So, you cannot be thin skinned in this racial work because our feelings get hurt every single day. Every day and it’s just like the insurrection. I kind of sit back because I said, “That has nothing to do with Black people or people of color, that’s what white people think.” And I’m not saying it to be mean, I’m saying it because it’s true.

It’s coming from a bigoted place and to pretend it doesn’t is just bullshit.
Right. Okay, so see? You get it, so then that’s where the conversations come in because a lot of people go, I mean, there were white people crying and they were all upset. And I was just sitting back going, “Are you for real? Are you really crying? Because you think that’s new? You never thought that that could happen?” While the rest of us Black people and Indigenous people and people of color, we’re like, “Yeah, this was coming.” Where do you think the song came from that “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised?” And that was from Gil Scott-Heron, way back in the ’70s.

Yeah. But it was televised. It was televised this time.
Yeah, look where we are. Everything is televised now, because everyone is using their camera phones. That’s just like lynchings. People want to act like they’re so surprised that Black people were being murdered in the streets right now. And they’re like, “Oh, my God, how could that happen?” or “They deserved to die” or whatever, the outrageous comments that I’ve read, especially about George Floyd, about Trayvon Martin, the whole thing. But the point is, when they were doing lynchings, the only difference was we didn’t have cameras back then, but they were siccing dogs on Black people and using water hoses on them, you saw them, but if you were removed from it, it didn’t touch you, so it didn’t bother you.

But the insurrection, to cry about it? That’s what I mean by hurt feelings. I think that the honest conversations come when your feelings do get hurt, when you are uncomfortable, when you’re put in a place of being uncomfortable because these are situations that we’ve grown up with. So, now all of us need to get to that point where we can have those uncomfortable conversations and come to a place where we go, “Oh, okay, I get it. I understand.” Because that communication is the best thing for all of us. We get a better understanding by communicating with one another.

I don’t have the money that they have. I don’t have the power they have. What I have is my name and why should I allow you to take my name from me? @TheRealLadyA on @LadyA Click To Tweet

I know you’ve written the topical song of “My Name is All I Got,” but how about other new material? Have you found your passion flowing into that creative process?
Oh yeah! Well, I mean, as I said, I was working on a CD before COVID and then all the other stuff happened. So, we are going back to that. I’ve been writing music, of course, during all of this, because “My Name is All I Got,” that’s part one. There is a part two. And it will come out … I’m doing a bit much. I’m going to try to put out three CDs.

Wow.
Yeah, that’s, yeah. I got a lot.

Are they themed, like red, white and blues or like ones the red one,  and  …
No. You know what? No, I haven’t named my CDs and I don’t … you know what? What’s funny now that I think about it and nobody’s ever said it before, but I don’t name my CDs until after all the music’s done. And then I figure out which song I like the best or how I’m feeling and that’s where the name comes from.

And that’s the title track?
Yeah and that’s usually the title track. Loved, Blessed and Blues comes because it was just a remarkable time in my life. How Did I Get Here?, like I said, we wrote that in Europe, myself and John Oliver III. We wrote that while I was in Europe, because my bass player died. How Did I Get Here?, that was a tribute to him. Doin’ Fine, because I was doing fine when that came out. I mean, I had some amazing things happen in my life and not only pertaining to my music. I run a ladies luncheon every year that garners about 300 to 400 women that come in and it’s a luncheon just to get women together. It started out, I put it on Facebook one day because, like I said, I mean, I have three radio stations that I host DJ for. So, I have Lady A’s Gumbo and Gospel on Sundays, NWCZ online radio, Lady A’s Black N Blues, and then I have KMRE FM 102.3, Lady A’s the Boss. So, between that …

The third one, Wikipedia didn’t know about the third one!
No, the third one is new. The third one came in mid-2020, I just started doing. Yeah, Wikipedia didn’t catch that one, did it? Yeah, I’m going to have to … I’m going to go look after this is over, but yeah, I mean, I’m busy. So, I have all these other things and plus, I still go to church and sing in the choir. So I have all these things that I do. Like right now, I livestream our church services on Sunday.

Yeah, I was going to say does the choir still assemble and wear masks on Sunday?
No, no.

No? Okay.
We don’t assemble. There are 10 of us that come to church, the deacons, the pastor, the First Lady, our musicians, myself, who livestream on Facebook. And most of the business people, a couple of our finance people come. And we’re the only ones that have been there since COVID, yeah. We try to keep our members like we have a conference call number and we livestream on Facebook every Sunday morning, so I’m pretty busy. I actually have earned the name “The Hardest Working Woman in Blues, Soul, Funk, and Gospel.”

Through this whole ordeal, just thinking about your musical journey from being at a point before you turned 50 where you didn’t feel like you were singing the right songs, and this whole thing about reclaiming your name, tell me, why is music so important to you? What is it about the music that has made you want to hold onto it so tightly?
I believe because what I sing, as I said before, my lyrics are intentional. I’m intentional about what I put out there. I want to inspire people. I want to encourage somebody. I used to have bouts of depression. And I’ve known people, I know two people who committed suicide because of depression. I’ve seen people go through hard times, and still come out okay. I’ve seen people go through hard times and not be okay. So, music soothes your soul. I mean, who can be mad when music’s playing? I did a project once called When the Music Plays. And the theme was when the music plays, how can you be mad? How can you be upset at anybody when music is playing?

It’s like when you put music and food together and put people in a room. Conversations come out of music. Your feelings come out of music. And so, it’s always been there for me from the time I was five years old singing in the choir. It’s always been there. I take God with me everywhere I go. He’s with me. I feel His holy spirit everywhere I go, even in my music, even in the hard times. So I’m hoping that whatever I sing, whatever I do, that I’m inspiring somebody. Am I perfect? No. By no stretch of the imagination am I perfect, but I’m always striving to be better than I was yesterday.

Photos of Lady A by Dawn Lucrisia-Johnson