It was 70 years ago today, a Tuesday in 1941, when a baby boy -- the son of Otis and Fannie Redding Sr. -- took his first breaths.
That child, Otis Ray Redding Jr., born in Dawson, in Terrell County, 20 or so miles southwest of Americus, would live for 26 years and three months, and in that time cultivate a voice that would boom through the ages.
Now as “Big O” hits the big 7-0, his sound, his voice, is back in the mix -- if it ever left -- among chart-topping artists, getting popular-radio airplay thanks to a pair of rap superstars.
In July, Jay-Z and Kanye West released “Otis” -- a single from their album “Watch the Throne” -- a song that heavily samples Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.”
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“Otis” climbed to No. 12 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in early August and, after falling to No. 25, appears on its way up again at No. 22.
The British music tabloid NME said of the song: “What we have here are two titans of black music duetting with another from beyond the grave. For that reason, it’s unquestionably an event.”
To hear Redding’s daughter, Karla Redding-Andrews, tell it, the soul great’s tunes have aged as gracefully as his legacy.
“I know it’s his 70th, but to us it doesn’t feel like that number. You think of 70 with some people and you think, ‘Oh, they’re getting so old.’ Well, to us, it’s almost like it’s a whole new reason to celebrate him,” Redding-Andrews said the other day.
“Here he is ... with the kind of influence that he still has, not only on us, his family, but to fans and other entertainers around the world. ... It’s almost like, ‘Wow, he’s 70 and still so damn cool.’ ”
So beyond cool, in fact, to borrow a reference or three from the new rap hit that his voice helps carry, that Redding’s singing seems right at home even while the modern lingo swirled on top of it is laced with “Benzes” and a “Rollie” and “swagger” and “Hermes” and “couture-level flow.”
So flat-out stone-chilled hip is it that, as Jay-Z rhymes in the song, Redding’s vocals come across as “photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth; I’m ’bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”
“We heard the song long before it came out,” Redding-Andrews said. “It’s not the first time that two great mega-giants have paid tribute to him. So it’s almost like here we are saying again, ‘He may be 70, but here are so many young artists saying let me connect myself to a true legend.’ If you listen to the song, it’s almost like, ‘Just let Otis do his thing,’ because that’s the whole song.”
Asked about the Kanye West collaboration with Jay-Z that lends more than a nod to her late husband’s modern-day relevance, Redding’s widow, Zelma, told Us Weekly in July, “We are proud that Otis’ legacy continues to inspire some of today’s popular artists. We like ‘Otis’ and thank Kanye and Jay-Z for honoring our Otis through their music.”
Notice how she says “our” Otis.
It’s interesting because so many here revere Redding, whose family moved to Bibb County when he was 3, and regard him as one of their own.
It isn’t uncommon for locals who travel, when asked where they’re from, to answer with something like, “You know, Macon, where Otis Redding’s from.”
So going on 44 years after his death in a Wisconsin plane crash, Redding continues to be embraced in the place that his widow has said he would never have left behind, no matter the further successes he no doubt would have known.
On the eve of what will be a weekend-long, 70th-birthday salute to Redding, his daughter said, “To be able to invite friends in from around the world to our homeplace and my father’s homeplace, it means a lot so that they, too, can experience how Macon just owns Otis Redding and my family.”
“I’m sure,” she said, “that they will continue to embrace us for 70 more.”
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.