Otis Ray Redding, Jr. was an American singer and songwriter who immensely influenced the genre of soul, despite a short lived career due to his untimely death. He was born on September 9, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia to Otis Redding, Sr. and Fannie Redding. The family moved to Macon when Redding was 5 years old. Here he began to sing in the church choir at an early age and also learnt to play the piano, guitar and drums. He took lessons for singing and sang in his school band as well as on local radio. He cited the singers Little Richard and Sam Cooke as his main inspirations and stated that there were definitive elements of their music in his work.
His father fell severely ill when Redding was 15, so he left school and began to support his mother in providing for the family. He held a number of menial jobs while also working as a guest musician with other artists such as pianist Gladdy Williams who often performed at social clubs. In the late 1950s, Redding met a local guitarist named Johnny Jenkins who invited him to join his group, the Pinetoppers. In 1960, he briefly moved to Los Angeles to try his luck but returned to Macon in 1961. In October 1962, he accompanied Jenkins to a recording session and grabbed the opportunity of recording his own song called “These Arms of Mine”. This song put Redding on to the map, becoming his first hit and reaching No. 20 on the R&B charts.
Redding was a successful performer throughout the 1960s, and released a number of hits such as “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Mr. Pitiful”, “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Respect” in 1965, “My Lover’s Prayer” and “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa” in 1966 and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” in 1968. His soulful voice and emotionally powerful performances mesmerized crowds during tours and concerts. He had a huge following with black audiences but his 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival introduced his music to white audiences as well, with whom he was equally successful.
Other than his own performances, Redding performed with other artists as well. In 1967, he launched a successful duet album with the singer Carla Thomas. The album was titled “King & Queen”. He also produced Arthur Conley’s hit song “Sweet Soul Music” and established his own recording label called “Jotis”. Redding was at the peak of his career when he was killed in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. The chartered plane that was carrying him and members of his back-up band, crashed into a lake near Wisconsin. He was only 26 years old at the time of his death. Ironically enough, his first chart topping hit followed a few weeks after the incident but Redding did not live to see it.
Redding had written plenty of material before his death, enough for the studio to release 4 posthumous albums including “The Dock of the Bay” and “The Immortal Otis Redding” in 1968, “Love Man” in 1969 and “Tell the Truth” in 1970. Many famous artists have covered his songs, such as Aretha Franklin whose version of “Respect” was a chart topping hit. Kanye West and Jay-Z won a Grammy for Best Rap Performance in 2012 for their song “Otis” which samples Redding’s song “Try a Little Tenderness”. Otis Redding was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by his idol Little Richard in 1989. He was also awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy Awards in 1999. To this day, his music remains powerful and influential, earning him the title of “the voice of soul music”.