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Redding, Otis

Redding, Otis

September 9, 1941
December 10, 1967


The soul singer and composer Otis Redding was one of the most powerful and original singer-songwriters of the 1960s. He was the mainstay of Stax Records, the Memphis label that became internationally successful releasing gritty southern soul records. Born in Dawson, Georgia, Redding grew up in Macon, 100 miles to the north. He began playing drums in school and was paid six dollars an hour on Sundays to accompany gospel groups appearing on the local radio station, WIBB. Redding stayed in school until the tenth grade (1957), but he quit to help support his family, working variously at a gas station, as a well-digger, and occasionally as a musician. As a singer, he began to win local talent contests with his spontaneous and tough vocal style. He traveled to Los Angeles in mid-1960, where he recorded four songs, and returned to Macon in 1961, where he cut "Shout Bamalama" for the Confederate label, a minor hit that received airplay on area radio stations.

Redding's break came in 1963, when he sang his song "These Arms of Mine" at a Stax recording session of Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, a group for whom he was guest vocalist and chauffeur. When the record made it into the Rhythm-and-Blues Top Twenty in 1964, Redding's career was launched. Over the next five years, his popularity grew steadily through fiery live performances, hit singles such as "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "I Can't Turn You Loose," and critically acclaimed LPs such as Otis Blue, The Soul Album, and The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. Like Aretha Franklin (b. 1942), who immortalized his song "Respect", Redding was able to capitalize on the liberal climate of the 1960s, crossing over to white listeners on both sides of the Atlantic. His performances in England in early 1967 so enthralled audiences that he was subsequently named Best Male Vocalist in a poll sponsored by the music publication Melody Maker, an accolade won by Elvis Presley the previous eight years. Later in 1967, nestled between rock acts, he captivated an audience of 55,000 at the Monterey Pop Festival in California, one of the milestones of the hippie era.

Redding's death in a plane crash near Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967, came at the peak of his career and left fans wondering what might have been. His song "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," recorded three days before his death, revealed a different, introspective musical direction. It became his biggest record, heading the pop charts for four weeks and becoming a posthumous signature song.

See also Franklin, Aretha; Music in the United States; Rhythm and Blues

Bibliography

Brown, Geoff. Otis Redding: Try a Little Tenderness. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mojo Books, 2001.

Freeman, Scott. Otis! The Otis Redding Story. New York: St. Martin's, 2001.

Guralnick, Peter. "Otis Redding" and "Stax Goes to Europe/The Big O Comes Home: Triumph and Tragedy." In Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. New York: Harper & Row, 1986.

bud kliment (1996)
Updated bibliography

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