Skip to main content

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


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

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Redding, Otis." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . 15 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Redding, Otis." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . (August 15, 2018).

"Redding, Otis." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Retrieved August 15, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.