Tribute: Otis Redding

Otis Redding

Otis Redding, Jr. holds court among the greatest soul singers, flanked by Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye. Redding was born 9 September 1941, in Dawson, Georgia. As a teenager, he won a local talent show 15 weeks in a row. He charted several hits beginning in 1962 through 1965, and wrote his own songs, often with Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the M.G.'s (who frequently served as Redding's backing band in the studio). In 1967, he was named "No. 1 Male Vocalist" in Britain's Melody Maker magazine and his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival was reportedly phenomenal, and exposed Redding to a wider, more mainstream audience.

Otis Redding

Redding smoking graveside.

After a television appearance and shows in Cleveland, on 10 December 1967, Redding and his crew decided to take his recently purchased Beechcraft H18 to his next show in Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately the weather was against them. The afternoon was cold and freezing fog was beginning to settle in. The plane took to the skies with nine on board: Otis Redding; his valet, Matthew Kelly; pilot Richard Fraser; Redding's manager; and Redding's backing band, the Bar-Kays (minus bassist James Alexander): Carl Lee Cunningham (drummer), Phalon Jones (saxophonist), Jimmie King (guitarist), Ben Cauley (trumpeter), and Ronnie Caldwell (organist).

The Bar-Kays and Otis Redding

The Bar-Kays and Otis Redding (seated on right).

Just three miles from Madison's airport, the plane began to lose power. At 3:28 PM, the aircraft entered a tailspin and plunged into icy Lake Monoma and broke apart. All on board, except for Cauley, perished, either from the impact of the crash, hypothermia, or drowning. Caldwell, Jones, and Cunningham were 19 years old; King was 18. Otis Redding was 26. This is a photo of his body being recovered from Lake Monona, and this is a photo of his body after the recovery, still strapped to the plane's seat (from Overnight Drive). Both photos are extremely graphic.

Ben Cauley's account

Ben Cauley's account of the crash.

The cause of the crash remains unknown. You can read the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report.

Wreckage recovery

Recovering the wreckage.

Redding's most popular hit, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," which was recorded only three days prior to the crash, was ultimately certified by BMI for over eight million plays. It also earned Redding a posthumous Grammy Award for "Best R&B Song."

One week after the crash, Redding's Macon City Auditorium memorial was attended by 4,500 people. Solomon Burke and Percy Sledge were among the pall bearers.

Statue of Redding

Statue of Redding erected in Macon, Georgia.

The Doors' lead singer Jim Morrison, paid tribute to Redding during a show - that Redding was supposed to headline - two weeks after the crash. Morrison also sings in the song, "Runnin' Blue": "Poor Otis, dead and gone, left me here to sing his song..."

Shortly after his death, Redding replaced Elvis Presley as "World's Best Singer" in another Melody Maker poll.

Otis Redding was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

On 6 June 2015, The Bar-Kays were inducted into the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame. Ben Cauley died on 21 September that same year, at the age of 67. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Redding's grave

Otis Redding's resting place.


"These Arms of Mine"


"Mr. Pitiful"

"That's How Strong My Love Is"

"I've Been Loving You Too Long"


"Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)"

"Try A Little Tenderness"


"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" *

"Love Man" *

* Released posthumously.

Redding's original memorial space saver Redding's current memorial

The original and the current memorial at the Wisconsin crash site.

Redding's memorial

Plaque at the crash site memorial.

Otis Redding

"The King of the Soul Singers"