Grammy-Winning Group Seems to Yearn for Those Good Old Slave-Holding Years.

Most of us learn in high school American history that “antebellum” refers to the years before the Civil War (it is Latin for “before the war”). So why did the country group Lady Antebellum decide to call itself that?

Here’s the answer given by one of the band members in a recent interview:

We knew when we came up with this name that we’d have to explain it everyday for the rest of our lives. We were taking some photos one day in front of some old ‘antebellum’ style houses in Nashville, and that word came out and it just kinda stuck.  The word has a nostalgic feel to it, and in a weird way we felt that reflected our sound and what we were going for.

Okay, the reason I’m not buying the completeness of that answer is that those antebellum style houses are called antebellum style houses because the word has meaning–the style of those houses is pinned to the period in the South that preceded the Civil War, and since “antebellum” means anything that is tied to that time and place, it is an apt descriptor of the style. That “nostalgic feel” in the band’s name is a nostalgic feel not just for  plantation-style houses, but for those good old slavery years that gave rise to them. I think Lady Antebellum wants it two ways–to subtly evoke nostalgia for that period in those who are nostalgic for it, and to deny any deliberate evocation.

Was Lady Antebellum’s top priority to appeal to racists when they chose their name? I’m not saying that. Since they’re from Tennessee, their first association to the word was probably architectural. But I’m guessing  history is taught mostly the same in the South these days as it is in the North, and that means the band should have been able to step back and say, “Wait a second. This word has meaning–a meaning which is much larger and more central to our nation’s history than whether a house has an exaggerated portico with lots of columns.” They didn’t do that. And (here’s the suspicion I wish I could dismiss) perhaps they don’t mind if, just incidentally, a benefit of their name is that it appeals to a reactionary streak in a portion of their fan base.

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3 Comments on “Grammy-Winning Group Seems to Yearn for Those Good Old Slave-Holding Years.”

  1. Rovronr says:

    thank god you posted something new.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. Rovronr says:

    Holy Crap!
    They won with a song about drunk dialing!
    Seriously.
    Are there no great songs about slavery any more? Fields of cotton?
    ‘Camptown Races’, anybody?
    Don’t nobody know nuthin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies? Does no one frankly give a damn?
    Oh, the indignity of defeat…the jumping of the antebellum shark!
    A mint julep too far.

  3. I think you’ve hit upon something,Ted. It exasperates me to no end that so many Southerners can’t get over the fact that they lost the War of Secession (which is what the Civil War should be called) or that the Confederacy wasn’t such an old-fired great idea after all. I don’t think, as a some people do, that this identification with a supposedly great antebellum past is consciously racist, though it may be implicitly so; I just think many Southerners still have an inferiority complex and compensate for it by clinging to tradition that to others seems shameful.


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