Grammy-Winning Group Seems to Yearn for Those Good Old Slave-Holding Years.Posted: February 15, 2011
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.