Dec. 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Otis Redding, along with all but one member of his band The Bar-Kays, in a Lake Monona plane crash that silenced the voice of one of American music's most promising artists. To commemorate this sad, significant occasion, two Madison-area tributes are taking place this week, featuring a variety of speakers and musicians reflecting on Redding's legacy.
The first event took place Monday evening at Monona Terrace. A sizable crowd milled around the brightly lit ballroom, decorated with pictures and other Redding memorabilia, as Redding's classic records played over the PA system.
The event opened with a version of "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," arguably Redding's most famous song, by local songsters Westside Andy and Robert J. Mayor Cieslewicz offered welcoming words, suggesting that Redding would be pleased with Madison's "vibrant music scene," and reading a proclamation from Gov. Doyle. Radio consultant Tom Teuber then read a statement from soul legend Sam Moore, of Sam & Dave.
After these testimonials, the evening's guest of honor -- saxophonist Ben Cauley, the crash's sole survivor and a music great in his own right -- took the stage to a well-deserved standing ovation. This is the first time that Cauley has returned to Madison, and Cauley seemed in good spirits, rewarding the audience with trumpet-laced performances of 'Try A Little Tenderness' and 'Dock Of The Bay,' along with a particularly poignant version of 'You Send Me,' a song made famous by Redding idol Sam Cooke. Though he is primarily a horn player, Cauley's expressive vocals relayed both the sweetness and vulnerability of all three selections. He left the stage to another standing ovation.
Craig Inciardi, curator of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, was then introduced. Inciardi opened by reading some remarks from Redding's widow Zelma, who mentioned The Big "O" Educational Dream Foundation, recently established in Redding's hometown of Macon, Ga. and thanked the volunteer divers who helped recover the bodies of Redding and The Bar-Kays.
The power of Zelma Redding's words was unfortunately not matched by Inciardi's own presentation: after spending too much time describing the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Museum, he moved on to an accurate, if slightly uninspired, discussion of Redding's biography and career highlights. He then shared a few slides of the Redding memorabilia collected in the Museum's archives, which ranged from the interestingly obscure (Redding's hunting license) to the strangely morbid (the clothes and shoes worn by Redding the day he died).
Although Inciardi's presence lent the event an air of official importance, his portion of the event lacked the energy of Cauley's, or even Mayor Cieslewicz'.
After the speeches, the crowd made its way to the Terrace's theater for a screening of the fine documentary Dreams To Remember: The Legacy Of Otis Redding. Unsurprisingly, Redding's voice, songs and performances proved the most effective memorial of all.
Over the last week, several Madisonians shared their thoughts on the legacy of Otis Redding:
- "Otis? The man could emote like no other. He produced, penned. He could kill a ballad or a heater, and man, if he didn't go down so early, I seriously think the Godfather of Soul [James Brown] would have a career behind Otis' large looming shadow." -- Chuck Money, DJ
- "Music we make now is made possible by those who paved the way. For that I give thanks and eternal gratitude." -- Laduma Nguyuza (aka Dudu Stinks and Mr. Parker), hip-hop artist
- "I was actually among those waiting at The Factory the night Otis died! It got very quiet when we were told about the accident! It's sad that he had to perish before the world actually recognized his talent. All of us owe him for his impact on our musical lives." -- Jan Wheaton, jazz artist
The second memorial this week will be held on Thursday, Dec. 6 at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum. Starting at 7 p.m., this event presents the program, "Echoes From Vietnam: '(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," which looks at the legacy of the artists' hit for soldiers during and after the Vietnam War.