Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ lives on in new children’s book

Song takes on new form to connect with kids.

In 1965, Otis Redding wrote and released the tune “Respect.”

Two years later, Aretha Franklin tweaked the music and lyrical thrust and turned the catchy melody into a defining anthem of her career, as well as a musical pillar of feminism and strength.

The song has been covered by artists ranging from The Supremes to Reba McEntire and long ago became ingrained in pop culture and music history annals.

Now, more than 50 years after Redding’s initial statement, the message in the tuneful evergreen is being steered toward a new audience — kids.

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

A picture book based on Redding’s song — titled, well, “Respect” — arrived this week from Akashic Books as part of its recently launched LyricPop series. In June, a quartet of LyricPop books debuted, including “Don’t Stop,” pulled from the Fleetwood Mac song (the message: optimism and patience), and The Beach Boys' “Good Vibrations.”

But getting “Respect” was a longshot. Or so thought Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books.

“It’s a song with lyrics that are so easily adapted into a good children’s picture book and so suitable because the themes are so relevant today,” Temple said. “I’ve been a fan of that song for so long, and when I’d hear it on the streets of Brooklyn, it was one that I noticed young people (singing). It was the first book (idea) that occurred to me, but I didn’t think it would actually happen.”

Redding was born in Dawson, but his legacy is synonymous with Macon, where, in 2007, his daughter, Karla Redding-Andrews, and wife, Zelma, established the Otis Redding Foundation.

The concept — which was Redding’s vision before his untimely death in a 1967 plane crash at the age of 26 — revolved around a camp for kids to explore their creativity, specifically through music and art. This year, a virtual version of the camp was held with more than 30 area kids who interacted with DJ D-Nice and Black Pumas singer Eric Burton to learn about numerous facets of the music industry — from copyrighting to creating album art.

When Temple and the publishing company reached out to the foundation about using “Respect” as the basis for a children’s picture book, the response was both immediate and positive.

“We always try to make sure that we cross-pollinate Otis' legacy with the importance of music and education, which was a passion of his,” said Redding-Andrews, who serves as vice-president and executive director of the foundation. “I think once (the publisher) found out what we do for kids in the community, they felt it was only fitting to do this lyric book.”

The 24-page book, suggested for children up to age 7, includes a Q&A about respect at the end and features bold visuals by Rachel Moss, a Jamaican artist who specializes in illustrating children’s books. The themes of empowerment and diversity are evident in her drawings, as well as the lyrics that pepper each page.

ExploreOtis Redding's songs: His musical legacy influenced the world

Credit: Maryann Bates

Credit: Maryann Bates

“I think (the illustrations) really brought a new sense of creativity to the lyrics,” Redding-Andrews said. “Kids can really look at it and just imagine service people getting respect and students giving respect as well. Rachel did a great job depicting Black and brown kids — as well as kids of all races — and that’s so important today when the country is so divided and the races are so divided. The book is one way to say, ‘Let’s put that aside.’”

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As music fans remember, Redding’s original song and Franklin’s interpretation carried different meanings. Redding’s is sung from a male perspective of the traditional family earner who wants to do right by his woman but demands her respect when he gets home.

In Franklin’s recast, the combination of her sassy attitude and the addition of spelling the words to the title and the “sock it to me” refrain flipped the song’s meaning and turned it into a rallying cry for women and the civil rights movement.

Credit: Courtesy Akashic Books

Credit: Courtesy Akashic Books

When it came time to craft the book, Temple said there was discussion with the Redding family about which version to use.

“The Aretha version can be interpreted as a woman demanding respect and as an anthem for women, which is accurate. But I think for Karla and her family, the concept of mutual respect was central,” Temple said. “The message of female empowerment isn’t lost or set aside, but the themes presented in the book make it less gendered and more societal. But of course, the goal of the book is to honor the vision of the songwriter.”

ExploreMORE ABOUT OTIS REDDING: Georgia native left legacy for the world

Redding-Andrews shared that her mother was excited about being able to share the book throughout the Macon community. (“Mom is so proud of it,” she said.) On Oct. 15, Redding-Andrews will hold a virtual reading for students (“Read for Respect Day”) in the Bibb County School District and when in-person learning returns, the foundation will donate 1,000 copies of “Respect” to at-risk youth in Middle Georgia schools.

Credit: "Maryann Bates"

Credit: "Maryann Bates"

“I hope kids will get this book and take it to dinner — once we’re able to start going out again for dinner — and share it,” she said. “They’ll be able to appreciate every thought process and stirring of creativity.”

The pairing of Redding’s music and the LyricPop book series won’t end with “Respect.” On the docket for early 2021: a children’s picture book based on “(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.”



By Otis Redding (song lyrics) and Rachel Moss (illustrator)

$16.95, available on Amazon and at Akashic Books.