Otis Ray Redding Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, and talent scout. He is considered one of the greatest singers in the history of American popular music and a seminal artist in soul music and rhythm and blues. Redding’s style of singing gained inspiration from the gospel music that preceded the genre. His singing style influenced many other soul artists of the 1960s.
Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia, and at the age of 2, moved to Macon, Georgia. Redding quit school at age 15 to support his family, working with Little Richard’s backing band, the Upsetters, and by performing in talent shows at the historic Douglass Theatre in Macon. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins’s band, the Pinetoppers, with whom he toured the Southern states as a singer and driver. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session led to a contract and his first single, “These Arms of Mine”, in 1962.
Stax released Redding’s debut album, Pain in My Heart, two years later. Initially popular mainly with African-Americans, Redding later reached a wider American pop music audience. Along with his group, he first played small shows in the American South. He later performed at the popular Los Angeles night club Whisky a Go Go and toured Europe, performing in London, Paris and other major cities. He also performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Shortly before his death in a plane crash, Redding wrote and recorded his iconic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Steve Cropper. The song became the first posthumous number-one record on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. The album The Dock of the Bay was the first posthumous album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart. Redding’s premature death devastated Stax. Already on the verge of bankruptcy, the label soon discovered that the Atco division of Atlantic Records owned the rights to his entire song catalog.
Redding received many posthumous accolades, including two Grammy Awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Respect” and “Try a Little Tenderness” are among his best-known songs.
Redding, who was 6 feet 1 inch (1.85 m) tall and weighed 220 pounds (100 kg), was an athletic family man who loved football and hunting. He was described as vigorous, trustworthy, full of fun and a successful businessman. He was active in philanthropic projects. His keen interest in black youth led to plans for a summer camp for disadvantaged children.
At age 18, Redding met 15-year-old Zelma Atwood at “The Teenage Party.” She gave birth to their son Dexter in the summer of 1960 and married Redding in August 1961. In mid-1960, Otis moved to Los Angeles with his sister, Deborah, while Zelma and the children stayed in Macon, Georgia.
Redding and his wife had four children: Dexter Redding, Demetria Redding, Karla Redding, and Otis Redding III. Otis, Dexter, and cousin Mark Lockett later founded the Reddings, a band managed by Zelma. She also maintained or worked at the janitorial service Maids Over Macon, several nightclubs, and booking agencies.
Redding’s music made him wealthy. According to several advertisements, he had around 200 suits and 400 pairs of shoes, and he earned about $35,000 per week for his concerts. He spent about $125,000 in the “Big O Ranch.” As the owner of Otis Redding Enterprises, his performances, music publishing ventures and royalties from record sales earned him more than a million dollars in 1967 alone. That year, one columnist said, “he sold more records than Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin combined.” After the release of Otis Blue, Redding became a “catalogue” artist, meaning his albums were not immediate blockbusters, but rather sold steadily over time.