During the reception opening the Georgia Southern Museum on Main exhibit “Beyond the Spotlight: Otis Redding – His Family, Music and Legacy” earlier this month, 155 people saw it in 90 minutes. Among them were Redding’s widow, his daughter and two of his grandsons.
Those who arrived at the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau in the first few minutes got to hear Karla Redding-Andrews, a 1985 graduate of Georgia Southern – then College, now University – tell how she enjoyed her first two years of relative anonymity as a student in Statesboro.
“When I came in 1980, no one knew who I was, and I loved it, I loved it, you know – until my brothers, The Reddings, came out with a couple of hit records,” she said. “And everybody was like, ‘Ah, your name’s Redding, would they be related to you? So that means Otis was your dad?’ So all of a sudden, my junior year, I was like big stuff on campus.”
Active in the 1980s, The Reddings was a band consisting of her brothers Dexter Redding and Otis Redding III along with Mark Lockett.
But the star of the exhibit inside the Statesboro Convention and Visitors Bureau at 222 South Main St. is her father, Otis Ray Redding Jr., the singer-songwriter who rose to fame in the 1960s with hit singles such as “These Arms of Mine” and albums such as “Otis Blue.” He died, just 26 years old, along with several of his band members in the crash of a private plane in December 1967.
But the first song that most people think of whenever he is mentioned, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” had just been recorded. It went on to become the first-ever posthumously released record to hit Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and won two Grammy Awards in 1968.
Redding-Andrews and her siblings then grew up in the glow of their fathers’ meteoric but Georgia-rooted success and his philanthropic aspirations, which are the exhibit’s subjects more than is the music itself. Their mother, Zelma Redding, in 2007 founded the Otis Redding Foundation, in Macon, where he had grown up. A number of the family members still live at the Big ‘O’ Ranch, near Gray in Jones County, on property that he bought with proceeds from his early musical success.
All of these are aspects that six first-year Georgia Southern graduate students, working toward their Master of Arts in history with a concentration in public history, incorporated into the exhibit. These students – Jordan Banks, Racheal Black, Michael Elmore, Katherine Hill, Lakia Hillard and Brianna Schoonover – took the spring semester Museum Studies class taught by Georgia Southern Museum Director Brent Tharp, Ph.D., inside the visitor center.
As has been the case for several years now, curating a new Museum on Main exhibit was the final class project.
Redding-Andrews described a visit in which she spent three to four hours talking with the student curators during one of their classes, with her mother along.
“For the passion and the dedication that they had for learning about my dad, learning about my family, learning about the foundation and the things that we do, I just knew that this was going to be something incredible, and you guys have really done an amazing job,” Redding-Andrews said.
Also a GS student
Nearby was another Georgia Southern student, her son Jarred Andrews, 20, then finishing sophomore year and majoring in business.
When he momentarily stood near a big photo of his famous grandfather, the resemblance was hard to miss. But the grandson’s attention was on other aspects of the exhibit.
“Oh, this is awesome, this is amazing,” Andrews said. “It’s cool that there are so many little artifacts around. I’m even still learning some stuff, especially with that family tree over there. I’m learning a lot here right now.”
He also sings and plays guitar and, in fact, has been taking guitar lessons with Chris Mitchell, owner of Pladd Dot Music in Statesboro.
Also in attendance was Jarred’s brother Justin Andrews, 30, director of special projects and outreach for the Otis Redding Foundation, of which their mother is vice president and executive director and their grandmother, president and founder.
The foundation focuses on bringing music-based education and performing arts experiences to children and youth. Its initiatives include the Otis Music Camp, held each June in Macon; the DREAM Choir; and Camp DREAM, which offers children coaching in theater and visual arts, as well as music and dance.
While gazing behind the spotlight into topics such as the Big ‘O’ Ranch, the foundation and Redding’s family, the exhibit of course pays homage to his musical success. Rarely seen artifacts include the red silk suit he wore during his European concert tour, the gold record awarded for sales of his version of “Try a Little Tenderness” and the three-time platinum record for “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.”
Student curator Lakia Hillard worked on some of the most sensitive subject matter, exhibit sections about the plane and Redding’s death and funeral.
“It was a tough part to work with, but then as I was researching and doing that kind of work, it made sense because so many people really cared about who he was as a person, and so his funeral was huge, and it showed how much he was a really big part of the community,” she said.
Jordan Banks, who developed a section of the exhibit specifically about Zelma Redding, noted that she and Otis Redding had three children when he died and that, after his death, she went back to school for her high-school equivalency diploma. Then she went to a community college and took business classes to manage the business interests he left her, Banks said.
Zelma Redding, 76, was there in person May 6, meeting many of the opening reception guests and quietly proclaiming the exhibit “wonderful.” The central artifacts are all hers, on loan to the Georgia Southern Museum and the SCVB, where the exhibit is scheduled to remain up until next April.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.