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Otis Redding Grammy Museum exhibit spotlights his soul

LOS ANGELES -- On Sept. 9, the music industry will pause to commemorate what would have been the 75th birthday of Otis Redding.

The soul icon, who was born in Dawson, raised in Macon and contributed more to the annals of music in his abbreviated time on the planet than many musicians do in a lifetime, is receiving a nine-month celebration of his life at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.

From the dazzling crimson suit worn on his “Live in Europe” album cover to the scuffed Samsonite valise recovered from the wreckage of the plane crash that killed him in 1967 and his posthumous Grammy Award for “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” in 1968, the 50 items in the “Respect! Otis Redding and the Revolution of Soul” exhibit reflect Redding’s personality while exploring his history.

“He’s one of the artists who never made it to 27,” said Crystal Larsen, communications manager at the Grammy Museum. “This new rush of R&B artists, like Leon Bridges and Andra Day, I would bet their influences tie back to Otis Redding.”

All of the artifacts are on display for the first time and came directly from the Redding family, who attended a private unveiling of the exhibit in January. Karla Redding-Andrews, Redding’s daughter and executive director of the Otis Redding Foundation, was joined by brothers Otis Redding III and Dexter Redding, as well as their mother, Zelma Redding.

The presentation tells the story of Redding’s life chronologically, from singing in his father’s church at the age of 4 to his days with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers to a 1965 flier advertising the release of “Respect” two years before Aretha Franklin made it historic (“And now the king of soul presents a change of pace,” trumpets the ad).

Redding’s performance of the song in 1967 at the Monterey Pop Festival in California was considered a breakthrough that unified Redding’s mostly black fan base with an audience of white concertgoers.

“We wanted to show how successful he was in crossover appeal,” Larsen said of the varied physical and auditory pieces in the exhibit.

In addition to the photos (Zelma and the children in front of their Georgia ranch in Round Oak), album covers (“In Person at the Whisky a Go Go”), tour itineraries and posters for Redding’s live performances, the most obvious and potent reminder of his legacy is the music.

Fans can slip on headphones to watch a live black and white video of Redding belting “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” from 1967 and hear him wailing “I Can’t Turn You Loose” in 1966.

In a glass-enclosed corner on the exhibit floor, a video screen plays a continuous loop of Redding performing “Respect” and “Try a Little Tenderness,” the video made a day before his death. Redding, clad in a black long-sleeved shirt, shakes his shoulders and shimmies his hips as he unleashes those seemingly effortless vocal runs.

Among the other items fans can peruse:

  • Redding’s overalls from the “Tramp” video, which he filmed at his Macon home.

  • An overhead shot of mourners streaming into the City Auditorium in Macon for Redding’s funeral in 1967.

  • A tour itinerary from Phil Walden Artists & Promotions in 1967, detailing dates in Trinidad, Jamaica and Barbados.

  • A faded receipt from a Holiday Inn in Macon for $30.16. It’s dated Dec. 6, 1967 — four days before Redding’s death.

Along with his undeniable musical contribution, Redding was a philanthropist who provided scholarships for continuing education and college, and his wishes are continued through the Otis Redding Foundation. Based in Macon, the organization was established in 2007 by Zelma Redding, and a section of the Redding Grammy exhibit expounds on its intent.

“Their mission is so tied to ours with music education,” Larsen said.

Georgia fans will be able to celebrate Redding’s 75th birthday as well in September, when the foundation presents the weekend event Celebrating 75 Years of Otis Redding, beginning Sept. 9 in Macon. An Evening of Respect tribute concert also is planned — another fitting memorial to one of music’s most transformative contributors.

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Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for Atlanta Music Scene blog on