This year will mark 50 years since the tragic plane crash that killed legendary musician Otis Redding. Mr. Redding was just 26 years old in 1967 and already a superstar with smash hits like Try A Little Tenderness and Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay under his belt. Despite the abrupt ending a brilliant life and career – he still thrives here in his home town.
As Macon, Georgia gears up to celebrate the 75th birthday of its most famous son this September – I had the chance to visit with one of his children – daughter Karla Redding-Andrews. We met at the Otis Redding Foundation offices in downtown Macon to talk about her father’s legacy, childhood memories and how she and her Mom are working to help young musicians succeed the way her famous father did.
“I was 5 when my Dad died. We had no idea what he did, we just knew that he went to work” says Karla, 54. “We had a beautiful farm, loved when he came home to play with us and ate ice cream. We were always eating ice cream – it was Dad’s favorite. But, it wasn’t until I was in college that I really understood how big of a deal my Dad actually was.”
Her Dad is still a big deal. As Karla puts it: “His catalog will live on forever.” Redding’s music is still regularly heard on the radio, used in advertisements and re-hashed by new artists – keeping his legacy thriving, so many years after his death. She notes that new generations are constantly being introduced to his music as though he’s still a brand new artist and they’re hearing his brilliance for the first time in their lives.
The Redding family works hard to carefully protect her father’s image and music. Sitting inside the small office and “mini-museum” on Cotton Avenue, in front of a display of collectible t-shirts and records, we talk about her life as the kid of a celebrity. She tells stories of meeting fans or former associates that share their love for her Dad while never saying an ill-word.
“I’m 54 years old and have never heard anyone ever say a bad thing about Otis Redding. I’ve never even heard anyone complain that he didn’t give them an autograph or treated them unfairly. It’s made me realize what a great guy he must have been and it makes me strive to be even nicer to people because my Dad would absolutely want that.”
She also shared her appreciation for the way her mom kept them grounded as children. In today’s world where children of celebrities are often in the news or in trouble – Mrs. Redding routinely reminded her kids that “You are not a big deal”. That way of thinking obviously helped mold Karla who couldn’t have been more gracious or easy to talk to.
The Otis Redding Foundation is her way of nurturing another generation of potential music stars while invoking the same philosophy and business smarts that made her father a success. Their most popular program is an annual Otis Music Camp.
“We teach these kids about every facet of the industry. Everything from the legalities of the entertainment industry to branding, public relations and trademarks. All the things you need to know to become a well rounded, intelligent music professional.”
The foundation teams up with lots of great organizations including the highly acclaimed Stax Music Academy in Memphis.
So besides the music, what does she have to remind her of her Dad?
“I’d have to say the ranch is what reminds me of him most. We still have the original 400 acres that he loved so much. My Dad loved being able to come there and get away from the hustle and bustle where he could be himself and relax by riding horses or playing with us kids.” She notes that his design tastes inside the house her Mom still lives in were incredible. “He learned so much from traveling around the world and it still shows inside that house”.
Along with her Mom, Karla and some of the other Redding family members still live on the property. She says with a big smile “It’s amazing to come home everyday on that driveway and be reminded of my Dad.”
Otis Redding’s 75th birthday celebration happens September 9-11 in Macon, Georgia.