Georgia artists put their spin on Otis Redding legacy

Fayetteville native Caleb Brown and other artists created artwork that illustrates how they were influenced by Otis Redding or one of his songs for an exhibit at the Macon Arts Alliance gallery. Redding would have turned 80 years old this month. Courtesy of Caleb Brown

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Fayetteville native Caleb Brown and other artists created artwork that illustrates how they were influenced by Otis Redding or one of his songs for an exhibit at the Macon Arts Alliance gallery. Redding would have turned 80 years old this month. Courtesy of Caleb Brown

Caleb Brown grew up on Otis Redding songs.

“Well, all my life I’ve been an old soul,” said the 27-year-old artist, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. “I’ve always listened to soul music. My dad used to sing Otis Redding songs.”

So, Brown knew quite a bit about Redding — crowned one of the best R&B/soul singers ever by Rolling Stone readers — before moving to Macon. As chance would have it, he moved right above the Otis Redding Museum on Cotton Avenue, which also houses the offices of the Otis Redding Foundation.

“Really, nobody can sound like Otis Redding,” said Brown, whose favorite Redding performance is “Amen.” “Nobody can really copy his very unique sound.”

This month, Redding, known as the King of Soul, would have turned 80 years old.

To honor the singer and songwriter’s legacy, Brown was among more than a dozen Georgia artists who were invited to create works that illustrate how Redding or one of his songs inspired them.

Brown studied Redding as he worked, watching documentaries and listening to his music. He created a dramatic acrylic paint on canvas of Redding belting out a song. Brown describes it as a realistic painting with expressionist qualities and high contrasts.

In his artist statement, Brown wrote: “Sharp contrast defines both my artwork and the music of Mr. Otis Redding. His distinct vocal persona leaves listeners equally astonished and inspired, myself included. This influence prevails through the diligence demonstrated with every brushstroke of “Amen.” My intent was crafting a painting that captures Mr. Redding’s musical robustness.

The exhibit, “Inspired by Otis,” runs through Sept. 24 at the Macon Arts Alliance gallery, 486 First St.

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The great Otis Redding was a native of Macon. Courtesy of Zelma Redding

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

The great Otis Redding was a native of Macon. Courtesy of Zelma Redding

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

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The great Otis Redding was a native of Macon. Courtesy of Zelma Redding

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

Credit: Courtesy Zelma Redding

Redding’s hits, including “Try a Little Tenderness,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Respect,” “These Arms of Mine,” “Mr. Pitiful” and “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” were filled with raw emotion. Redding, the son of a Baptist preacher, died at age 26 in 1967 when the plane in which he and others were riding plunged into a Wisconsin lake.

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Otis Redding leans on a wall at Big O Ranch. Courtesy of Zelma Redding and Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Otis Redding leans on a wall at Big O Ranch. Courtesy of Zelma Redding and Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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Otis Redding leans on a wall at Big O Ranch. Courtesy of Zelma Redding and Stax Museum of American Soul Music

“Macon has a very strong music history,” said Julie Wilkerson, executive director of the alliance. Other performers with ties to Macon include Little Richard, the Allman Brothers Band and James Brown. “The Redding family still lives in central Georgia, and they are really a big part of the cultural life here.”

Other works in the exhibit include a ceramic plate by Forrest Gard with an image of Redding playing his guitar in the center; and “Dreaming of Home” by Doug Nurnberger, a colorful digital artwork and photo collage of Redding dreaming of home while he writes music from afar.

ExploreOtis Redding left musical legacy for the world

Original plans by the Redding Estate, the Otis Redding Foundation and other partners included concerts and various events, but the pandemic forced many of those events to be postponed.

Karla Redding-Andrews serves as vice president and executive director of the foundation that bears her father’s name. Another daughter, Demetria Redding, was adopted by Redding’s wife, Zelma Redding, after his death. His sons, Otis Redding III and Dexter Redding, are both musicians and singers.

The foundation carries on the work of Redding, who was intently focused on education and served as a mentor to young people interested in the music industry.

As part of the celebration, new items have been added to the permanent exhibit at the Otis Redding Museum, including his bandstand, a gray Samsonite briefcase with his initials in black and silver and handwritten notes.

Redding-Andrews was 5 when her father died.

She believes, though, that if he had lived to celebrate eight decades, “I think he would certainly be working with me and my sons and the rest of the team here. He’d be working with kids and certainly motivating them in their craft, whether it was vocals, guitar or engineering. He placed a strong emphasis on the importance of education.”