On December 10, 1967, a private plane carrying Otis Redding and seven others including members of his touring band plunged into the Wisconsin lake killing all but one person on board. The plane was headed for the municipal airport in Madison, Wisconsin but ended up in Lake Monona.
Redding’s death at 26 stunned the music world especially as the American singer, producer, record arranger, songwriter and talent scout was on the ascendency with his various skills.
His impact on American popular music was so much that four days prior to his death, he had recorded “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”. Upon his demise, the song became the first posthumous number-one record on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts selling two million copies. The album “The Dock of the Bay” was the first posthumous album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart.
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“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” is credited with influencing the soul movement by combining traditional rhythm and blues with folk.
Among black and white listeners in the United States and Europe Redding was loved, even labeled the male counterpart to Aretha Franklin. Just a year before his sudden death, Redding had toured Britain, France, and Scandinavia successfully putting in appearances at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and the Monterey Pop Festival.
Redding was born in Georgia in 1941, the same year as Emmett Till and was influenced by musicians Sam Cooke and Little Richard. In the late 1950s, Redding joined Richard’s band, the ‘Upsetters’, after Richard had gone solo and by imitating him landed his first minor hit in “Shout Bamalama”.
He then joined Johnny Jenkins’ ‘Pinetoppers’, a local Georgia band, and also served as the group’s driver. His fortune changed when after the group had their session at Memphis, Tennessee, he sang two songs of his own. One of the two, “These Arms of Mine” (1962), launched his career.
Redding’s strong and supple voice and emotional singing endeared him to many as did his magnetic stage presence. His works include “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now)” (1965), “Respect” (1965), “Satisfaction” (1966), “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” (1966).
As a composer, he arranged his songs as he wrote them. He made his début on the Memphis-based label Stax, in 1962 and when he died “Stax and Atlantic culled enough material from the unmixed and unfinished tracks he recorded in the fall of 1967 to release a series of singles and albums in the years ahead. Some of these records, such as the singles “Hard to Handle,” “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” (co-written with his wife, Zelma), and “Love Man,” stood with his very best work,” writes The New Yorker.
During 1968, three other Redding songs – “The Happy Song (Dum Dum),” “Amen,” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” – hit the charts.
Redding was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994. He also was a recipient of a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement (1999).
In five short years, Redding became the most beloved soul singer of his generation with an “incomparable voice.” Sad then that it all evaporated just when it was shining brightest.