Otis Redding was born September 9, 1941, to a family of six in Dawson, Georgia. His family moved to Macon‘s Tindall Heights neighborhood when he was five. He learned to play guitar and piano as well as sing at his local church, setting him on the path to becoming a performer.
Redding made money singing gospel songs for a local radio station and won a teen talent competition. He later met guitarist Johnny Jenkins and joined the band The Pinetoppers. In 1958, he performed in a talent competition, singing his hero, and Macon native, Little Richard’s “Heebie Jeebies.”
Not long after, he met Phil Walden, who signed him to his new record label. The two would continue to be friends and collaborators for many years. In 1962, he went to Stax Records in Memphis where he recorded “These Arms of Mine,” his first hit and one of his most beloved songs. He returned in 1967 to record “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay,” which would become his final song.
On December 10, the plane carrying Redding and members of his band crashed in Wisconsin. Redding’s legacy continues to this day, as he received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Apart from Stax, all of these locations are in and around Macon, Georgia.
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Vineville Baptist Church
A young Redding learned to play the guitar and piano at Vineville Baptist Church and sang with the church choir. It established his early interest in performing. His father worked as a pastor at the church.
The church was established in 1902 and was also the first Baptist church in the state to integrate. This neighborhood is also where The Big House Museum, the former home of the Allman Brothers, is located. While there is a Vineville Baptist Church in Macon, it’s not the same one Redding was a member of.
The Douglass Theatre was established in 1911 by Charles Henry Douglass, a local African-American business owner. He worked with the Florida Blossom Minstrels and Comedy Company, where he met many of the black performers he would hire for his vaudeville theater.
Over the years, the space hosted acts like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Duke Ellington as well as films. In 1958, young Otis Redding performed on “The Teenage Party,” a live broadcast talent show organized by DJ “Hamp Swain.” It put him on the map, especially when Phil Walden heard him on the show.
A few years later, Little Richard and James Brown performed at the theater. The theater fell on hard times and closed in 1972, but was reopened by the community in 1997. It now hosts all sorts of events, including film screenings and performances.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis
Originally founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, Stax Records was created in Memphis by siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. They originally operated out of a small garage, but later opened a record store and studio in a converted movie theater. Most of their early acts were country and pop, but in 1959 they released their first rhythm and blues song.
In 1960, they recorded with father and daughter Rufus and Carla Thomas, who would be some of their first artists at the new space. Stax cut a deal with Atlantic Records to distribute their music. Booker T. and the MGs became their house band and Stax developed the sound they are now known for. Otis Redding arrived in 1962 to record and quickly became their biggest star.
A series of events led to the downfall of Stax, including the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel, a popular hangout for Stax artists, the death of Redding, and some business decisions. Stax filed for bankruptcy in 1975 and closed, apart from a brief resurgence in the 1980s.
The building was demolished but was reconstructed with details from the former employees as a music museum in 2003. It contains exhibits on Stax artists and also has a music academy, fostering the careers of tomorrow’s musicians.
Purchase your Stax Museum of American Soul Music Admission before you go or book a spot on the Memphis Music Tour.
Otis Redding Statue
In 2002, a life-size statue of Otis Redding was unveiled at Gateway Park on Riverside Drive in Macon, depicting him “sitting on the dock of the bay.” Set along the bank of the Ocmulgee River, the park first opened in 2001.
It has bike racks, restrooms, and a boat launch for kayaks and canoes. It hosts events like live music, community picnics, and family reunions. A trail goes through the park as well.
Otis Redding Foundation
The Otis Redding Foundation was established by his wife Zelma Redding in 2007 in her husband’s honor. Their aim is to “empower, enrich, and motivate all young people through programs involving music, writing, and instrumentation.”
They have a number of programs, including the Otis Redding Center for Creative Arts, the Otis Music Camp, the DREAM choir, and scholarships. The downtown building also has a mini-museum with artifacts from Redding’s life, including his many awards.
Macon City Auditorium
Otis Redding’s funeral took place at the City Auditorium, attended by over 4,500 people, despite only having room for 3,000. Jerry Wexler, the influential producer at Atlantic Records, gave the eulogy. Built in 1925, the building features Doric columns and a copper dome. Oprah Winfrey filmed an episode of her show at the auditorium in 2007.
- Muscle Shoals– In addition to his recordings in Memphis and Macon, Redding also recorded in the “third M” in Alabama. He co-wrote “Sweet Soul Music” with Arthur Conley.
- Big O Ranch– After his early success, Redding purchased a 300-acre ranch north of Macon. The private residence is where he is now buried. The site occasionally opens to visitors for special events.
- Gray Historic Marker– An interactive historic marker sits in downtown Gray, near Big O Ranch, designed like a record. It’s also near Otis Redding Memorial Bridge.
- Madison, Wisconsin– A memorial plaque sits near Monona Terrace, where Redding’s plane crashed into the frozen lake. The convention center was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
- There are also commemorative murals worldwide to honor the musician.
Looking for a Macon hotel during your Otis Redding pilgrimage? We recommend the 1842 Inn Bed and Breakfast and The Burke Mansion.
Lynne Donehoo says
Caroline, this is a wonderful article on Otis Redding and his legacy. For Otis Redding fans the places you mentioned are a must see. Your attention to detail is great. I look forward to your next article.