Otis Redding: We've Got Dreams to Remember

Emmanuel Elone

To celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday this September, daughter Karla Redding-Andrews remembers the legacy of American Treasure Otis Redding.

Otis Redding

Otis Redding 75th Birthday Celebration

City: Macon, GA
Venue: Macon City Auditorium
Date: 2016-09-11

For a city with just over 400,000 residents, Macon, Georgia has birthed a lot of popular music icons over the last century. From a country superstar like Jason Aldean to alternative rock legend in the form of R.E.M.'s own Bill Berry to classic southern rock act the Allman Brothers Band, the city grows its artistic seeds, imbibing its youth with as much -- if not more -- creativity and musical energy than a place like New York City or Los Angeles. This has been no more evident than with Little Richard and Otis Redding, two of the most popular and defining artists of the 20th century.

To Karla Redding, Otis' daughter, the key to Macon's success is a certain "something that's in the water". It's an incredible phenomenon, one that should be celebrated. In September of this year, it will be.

In honor of Otis Redding's 75th birthday, Macon will host a three-day festival (9th through 11th) filled with local musical legends such as St. Paul and the Broken Bones, violinist Robert McDuffie, The Reddings Dexter and Otis III (who are Otis' sons), and the Otis Redding Music Camp All-Stars, an ensemble consisting of the city's best and brightest young musical talent. Past acts have included international stars such as Estelle, Ledisi, and Anthony Hamilton, singers who all acknowledge the enormous influence that Redding's music played in their careers as entertainers and vocalists. The proceeds from this festival will go to establishing DREAM Academy, Georgia's first authentic arts-integrated public charter school aimed to "educate and empower students to reach their full potential through the blending of music, the arts, and academics."

Taking time between running the Otis Music Camp (now on its ninth year in existence), managing the Otis Redding Foundation with her mother Mrs. Zelda Redding, obtaining approval from Georgia's Board of Education to create the DREAM Academy, preparing for the upcoming celebration later this year and much more, Redding-Andrews met with PopMatters to discuss not only the fast-approaching festivities and the legacy of Redding's music, but also how she is helping fulfill her father's lifelong goal of educating and empowering the youth of today to be the leaders of tomorrow.

One thing I would talk to you about was Macon, Georgia as a place because, besides Otis Redding, there's a lot of new artists coming out of Macon. What's the atmosphere there like? Why do you think there are so many great musicians coming out of Macon Georgia all the time?

Well, you know it's like it's something in the water. You know, between Lena Horne and Otis Redding and Little Richard days and the Allman Brothers era and now the Jason Aldean era ... so there was a little lull between there's something in the water about Macon and what it does for music. And it's incredible because we are a community that knows one of its important aspects is its music and that's pretty much what we do at the foundation: promote the importance of music in that way. It's just amazing. Even Bobby McDuffie, who's a world famous violinist and a number of other artists -- there's just something in the water that makes for great musicians to come out of Macon.

The Otis Redding Foundation, like Otis Redding, wants to instill a lot of musical education into children. Did you ever have a personal experience with him where he mentioned it to you, or were you too young [at the time]?

Well, there's a lot of references to that. I was so young when my dad died that I didn't get to experience that, but knowing what he did to promote the music, the arts and education -- that's the reason why we can do so much with the Otis Redding Foundation in his honor. He was already being very philanthropic and supporting, continuing to promote education and the arts and was even planning to do a summer camp for underprivileged kids and a grant so they could experience every facet of the music industry, whether you were a writer, producer, or DJ. These are things he was putting in place before he even died. So our goal was to pick up all of that and keep it going, and that's what we do with the Otis Music Camp every single day.

What's it like to be a part of the Otis Music Camp and teach children about music?

It's amazing. We are in our ninth year, which we just completed last Friday. We've gone from seven kids all the way to 60 plus kids and to see the level of talent, to see the level of commitment, to see the level of songwriting ...

We've got and orchestra conductor who came out of the camp, we've got six kids pursuing their musical careers in the Berkeley School of Music and Kennesaw State University to the University of Georgia. So we are developing and giving that young talent, that new young generation of musicians, the opportunity to continue their training, and that's what my dad wanted to do. If he were alive you would be doing just that today.

[After your father's passing] Both your mother and yourself have continued to work hard and achieved so much from the Otis Redding Foundation to the Otis Redding Music Camp to this new DREAM Academy. Where do you think [this motivation and drive] comes from?

One way I know to continue the legacy of Otis Redding outside of the music (because the music will last forever) but his philanthropic side is what people don't know. We focus on the commitment he had to music, education and his community. That's why we work so hard in the Otis Redding Foundation, the Music Camp and the DREAM Academy. It's that side we focus on. His music, we don't need to promote that, since it promotes himself. You see that when Kelly Clarkson signs to Atlantic Records and chose "These Arms of Mine" to make the big announcement, the Kobe Bryant commercial with "I Been Loving You" -- we don't need to promote the music because it promotes itself. But his philanthropic side, people don't know about that and so that's why we do what we do every single day.

[In relation to Kanye West and Jay-Z's song "Otis"], did anyone from Mr. West or Jay-Z's camp reach out to you?

How it came about was that his team contacted our team about the tribute, and my brothers and I totally got it. We understood how important the song would be, but my mother was nervous. So we had to convince her that this was our one opportunity to convince her that this was how to introduce Otis Redding to a new generation of fans. Once we got that across to her, she realized that that's what we should be doing, and now that's the ringtone on her phone so we obviously convinced her on the song. But we never had a talk with Kanye, and I know my mother always looks forward to that. She would love to have a conversation with Mr. West and ask, "Tell me what it is about my husband that you love." Because Kanye adores Otis Redding.

[At the 75th Celebration], you have St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Robert McDuffie, and Otis Redding's own son. It's amazing that Otis' music has inspired so many different musicians. Do you see these newer artists as a carrying on Otis Redding's legacy?

I do see that artists like St. Paul and the Broken Bones and Alabama Shakes are the new and upcoming Otis Redding clones because they love Otis Redding and that element of real music and real passionate lyrics and that's what Otis Redding put out. These new artists, they think about lyrics and how they touch their audience and they emulate that from Otis Redding.

[Can you] tell me about the Reddings [Otis' sons]?

Well, you know, the Reddings were a group in the early '80s and they had a string of top-ten hits. So they have a fan following of their own. You know, it's always hard to live in the footsteps of Otis Redding, and when you think about artists that have covered an original Otis Redding tune, it's always a challenge. Think of Michael Bolton and how he got eaten alive for doing "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay", even though we think that his version was amazing.

So that's what Dexter and Otis had to live up to: they were trying to be musicians in their own life, but were in the shadow of Otis Redding. But if you listen to Dexter sing, he is the closest thing to sounding like Otis Redding today. They still do music and produce, but they come out of the woodwork when I need them. I say "Listen, I need you to pay tribute to dad," and they are always ready to do that.

I must imagine that it must have a certain extra touch to it, since they are Otis' own sons.

Without a doubt. When Dexter and Otis perform, the audience is just awestruck. It just brings them so much passion and honor to be able to sing an Otis Redding song and truly do it justice.

There are also a lot of artists outside of Macon, Georgia like Ledisi and Estelle -- these are big names.

These artists have a true passion for Otis. St. Paul and the Broken Bones: just to go back to them. [They] learned the entire Otis catalog before their first album. So they were paying their rent and starting to make music by doing covers, so how great could that be to see them up on stage and hear them talk about how much they love Otis Redding. That's who we connect to, people who love and respect what Otis left behind.

Yep. On July 18th, we have an appointment with the State Charter Commission, and feel confident that they will understand the importance of integrating music and art with education.

It's amazing that you continue to educate and teach children about music and the arts for so long. It certainly is a great way to honor you father.

Let me tell you: as hard as we work, it's great to hear that sometimes. What my mother always says is "Anything we do in [Otis'] honor has to be done right," so it's nice to hear that we're doing something right.

Now, you and your mother are not just involved in music: you also ran a shoe shore. How did that come about, and did that inspire you to set up the Otis Redding Foundation afterwards?

Well, my mom has protected the legacy of Otis Redding from then until now, so we were always involved. [When I moved back from Atlanta], I never thought of going into the music industry since my mom always handled everything Otis Redding. We had always been shoe fanatics, and we realized that shoes were the one thing that Macon was missing, so we opened the shoe store and it did extremely well. We were the finest shoe store in the entire area. People came there [across the entire region].

That's when people started saying "We need great clothes to go with these shoes", so that's when we decided to open Dreams. And suddenly my dad's estate just grew. So I told my mom that we needed to focus on selling, and the best tool to sell was Otis Redding. We have no problem with promoting the legacy, so let's just dedicate the rest of our time to Otis Redding's legacy. We've been doing it ever since, and [we continue to expand every year]. It's the best job that I've ever had.

In most estates of artists, there's a lot of friction, so it's great that you are all such a close-knit family.

Yeah, there isn't a day that goes by where we don't see each other. My mom's still at the ranch, and my brother Dexter has a home at the ranch, Otis lives in the city but still ... we all connect every single day. We all come as a package.

Going back to the DREAM Academy? Is there any significance to the word "DREAM" [written in all capitals]?

It isn't an acronym; it comes from what we put into place with the clothing store, and my mom actually wrote the song "I've Got Dreams to Remember" so the DREAM really comes from that. She co-wrote the song and didn't even know it was being recorded until it was written after his death.

That's simply amazing.

Yep, so that's where the DREAM comes from.

Now, this celebration is for the DREAM Academy.

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