She Made Sure We Ain’t Gonna Lose Touch With Soul

I want to take the opportunity to call attention to an article in the NY Times this past Sunday focused on Zelma Redding, wife of the singer Otis Redding, Jr.  The Otis Redding Foundation is a close neighbor to my theater. We can see the back door of their offices from the lobby doors of the theater.   Zelma is only in the offices on occasion. The last time I saw her was a week before Covid shut everything down two years ago. However, her daughter Karla and grandson Justin are very visible, accessible and involved in the community. (I just congratulated Justin on the NY Times article in a crosswalk while returning from lunch today.)

Just as the article notes, Karla, Justin and other members of the family are active on numerous boards around the community.  But the Otis Redding Foundation has a number of programs of their own focused on music education. They have afterschool lessons and run two summer camps, one of which is focused on training kids for the music business and has seen them travel and perform in Nashville as part of the camp experience.

If you walked into their offices, you would hardly believe they run such extensive operations out of such a small space.  They actually announced construction of the Otis Redding Center for the Arts on March a half block from their current offices. It will be focused on serving students 5-18 who have interests in all aspects of music, from performance to recording technology.  Right now Justin is flying around the country raising money for the center. If anyone has any interest in being involved with the project, reach out to them.

The article does a great job of discussing the environment into which Otis Redding was launching his career and in which the Foundation operates in today. There is a Confederate statue right outside the foundation offices on a street with a history of Black owned businesses. The county’s efforts to move it have been stymied by lawsuits. The Foundation has had to be neutral on calls to have Otis Redding’s statue replace the current statue, just as they had to be with the push to have the city auditorium named for Redding.

Before I had read the NY Times article, I ended up having lunch with an elder statesman musician who grew up here and had gigged with The Pinetoppers when Otis Redding was a member prior to joining the horn section for Sam and Dave. He discussed the virulently racist mayor of Macon who nonetheless loved Otis Redding that is also mentioned in the NY Times article. (He also talked about touring in the Jim Crow era. While he made light of the situations, they must have been tense to terrifying when they happened.)

Similarly,  it is indeed “complicated” that when he died Redding had been a partner in a record label that later ended up carrying a lot of Southern Rock acts that employed Confederate symbols in their marketing.

But the Foundation probably wouldn’t even be around today if not for the dogged efforts of Zelma Redding. After Otis Redding’s death, while raising four kids, she went back to school and learned the music business, eventually opening her own music related businesses. All the way, she had to fight to make sure she was getting the royalties and payments from Otis’ work that were due his estate.

So give the article a read. It is such a great encapsulation of so many issues that remain relevant today.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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