I grew up in a mystical, magical place that I lovingly call “The Georgia Outback”.
Jones County and its county seat of Gray is located in center of Georgia fifteen minutes from Macon and about a two hour drive from downtown Atlanta.
Over the years this community, expansive in land but small in population, has produced its share of people who have gained fame on the global stage. However, I would submit that none of them had a bigger impact on this world than Otis Redding, whose body is buried in the soil of our beloved county.
Born in nearby Dawson and raised in Macon, Otis Redding was inspired toward music by his father, Otis Redding, Sr. (who was a minister as well as a gospel singer) and his mother, Fannie Mae Redding.
Influenced by fellow Macon native Little Richard, young Otis was “discovered” in 1958 while performing on disc jockey Hamp Swain’s “The Teenage Party,” a talent contest held in Macon at the Roxy and Douglass theatres.
Inked by the legendary Stax Records, Redding became a mainstay of the star studded label writing, recording such classics as “These Arms of Mine”, “Mr. Pitiful”, “Respect”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Try A Little Tenderness”, and “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”.
However, Otis Redding was more than the local boy done good. Redding used his fame and good fortune to help others, not only in central Georgia, but around the world. One of the community projects that was closest to his heart was the Stax Stay in School Program.
Otis’ music has been a force for good. While Redding’s song “Respect” is about a romantic relationship, the tenor of the song (as performed by both Otis and Aretha Franklin) has become an anthem of the American Civil Rights moment as well as liberation movements worldwide.
Otis’ lifetime of good work continues with the activities of the Otis Redding Foundation, where his daughter Karla serves as its executive director. The annual Otis Redding Music Camp supports the foundation’s mission to assist in the growth and development of young musicians.
Singer Don McLean in his classic song American Pie called the day that singers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) were killed in a plane crash February 3, 1959 as “the day the music died”
However, I call the day that Otis Redding was killed in a plane cash December 10, 1967 as the day that the music lived!
In the days, weeks and years after his untimely death, Otis Redding’s music gained a greater status, as disk jockeys played it more, music critics understood it more and we, the fans, wanted it more.
While on today on December 10, 2015 there is no new more music from Otis Redding those of us who are devoted fans treasure and keep alive the music he left for us.
The test of time has proven that the songs he wrote and the music he performed still touches our hearts, moves our feet and energizes our souls.
In September of 2015, nearly a thousand people, including folks who knew him and those who did not, gathered in the center of my hometown, Gray, Georgia, to dedicate a monument in honor of Otis Redding.
However, instead of the normal grey brick or stone marker, this monument has color pictures, inspiring words and something more… the music of Otis Redding.
Visitors can simply push a button and experience Otis singing many of his hits like “These Arms of Mine”, “Mr. Pitiful”, “Respect”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Try A Little Tenderness”, and “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay”.
It’s a fitting tribute to a “King of Soul” because in the “Georgia Outback”, and around the world, the music of Otis Redding lives on.