The Day Otis Redding Died: December 10, 1967, Lake Monona, Wis.

By Brian D’Ambrosio, Editor

Soul singer Otis Redding had acquired his own plane to make touring less hectic, but the twin-engine Beechcraft H18 would prove his fatal undoing. At around 3:30 p.m. on a foggy Sunday afternoon, December 10, 1967, the plane, which encountered a storm en route from Cleveland to a concert in Madison, plunged into the frigid depths of Lake Monona. Redding, 26, and four members of his Bar-Kays band were killed. The musicians were headed to The Factory nightclub, scheduled to perform at 6:30 p.m.

The crash killed six others, everyone on board except for trumpeter Ben Cauley (bassist James Alexander had luckily avoided the flight altogether). On the cusp of achieving pop superstardom, Redding, best known for his hit, “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” recorded just three days earlier and released after his death, was dead. The tune was Otis’ first posthumous release and his biggest-selling single ever, topping both the R&B and pop charts on its way to going gold. Engineers tastefully overdubbed the sound effects, the mournful cries of seagulls, the singer’s lonesome whistling, after Otis’ death.

About 4,500 mourners, including a dazzling array of soul giants such as James Brown, Solomon Burke, and Wilson Pickett, crowded Macon’s City Auditorium for Redding’s funeral, a week later.

On December 3, 1997, thirty years later, hundreds of people showed up to the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center to Georgia-born soul singer and songwriter. They’d never met the man, but they loved his music, and came to express their appreciation of the full impact of Otis Redding as a soul pioneer who inexorably altered the rhythm & blues landscape – and, ultimate, all of pop music- with his gritty, lustrous vocal, sexy, slinky lyrics and unforgettable songs.

Cauley, who hadn’t visited Madison since the crash, received a standing ovation. He told his audience how he’d awakened early that Sunday four decades ago and headed to the Cleveland airport for the trip to Madison. That day, he said, Redding told him he’d just finishing recording the supremely meditative “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” A few hours later, Cauley was flung out of the plane on impact. As he floated in the icy waters of Lake Monona, clinging to a cushion, he watched the rest of the plane’s passengers — including the man he once described as “…a groovy cat, like an older brother” — drowned.

When his short speech was finished, Cauley sang some of the songs that might have been on the bill at The Factory, including a trumpet-laced version of Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

He was born in Dawson, Georgia, approximately 100 miles south of Macon, on Sept. 9, 1941. His family moved into a Macon housing project when Redding was three. He began singing in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church. Now home to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Macon is arguably the vital center of soul. Little Richard, James Brown and Otis Redding – three men who shaped American blues music in from the 1950s to the 1970s and beyond — all launched their careers here. Strangely, although he consistently impacted the R&B charts beginning with the Top Ten appearance of “Mr. Pitiful” in 1965, and he is remembered for producing some of the toughest, sweetest, most enduring soul music ever created, none of Redding’s singles fared better than #21 on the pop Top Forty.

There’s one noteworthy aspect to Redding’s life not often touched upon: No one has anything unflattering to say about him. No scandals lurking in the closet, no unsavory incidents of rampant egotism to shatter his clean image, no shafting of his sidemen on long road jaunts. Just a sincerely talented soul man who enhanced the lives of everyone associated with him but died much too soon.

Heartbreak never sounded good. Or happened so abruptly.

Article excerpted from Brian D’Ambrosio’s travel book A Wee Bit of Wisconsin

19 Responses to The Day Otis Redding Died: December 10, 1967, Lake Monona, Wis.

  1. mary payton says:

    Thank you for the interesting article about Otis Redding.

  2. Edith Lawrence-Hilliard says:

    I was on my way to the concert that night with friends we were so excited that Otis Redding was preforming in Madison, which at the time had an extremely small African American community. He was a world class singer and entertainer and we were so blessed that his tour included Madison, and sad that his life ended here.

  3. […] The Day Otis Redding Died: December 10, 1967, Lake Monona, Wis. – Portal Wisconsin  Share this:PrintEmailTwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Arts and tagged Dock of the Bay, Lake Monona, madison, Otis Redding, plane crash, singer by Callie Eli. Bookmark the permalink. […]

  4. mystro says:

    Well writin,inspiring!

  5. jacqueline says:

    i remember late nights sittin on the top step home listening to otis,records my mom had all his records

  6. If this man was alive he would be my husband, and all he would have to do is sing to me. LOL

  7. He was one of the bset

  8. Meri Noyes says:

    was he married, and did he have any children – did he have any family left, like brothers or sisters?

  9. larry perry says:

    I was a big Otis fan we need like him today.

  10. Kylie says:

    I have siting on the dock of the bay always on every playlist I have, but just tonight randomly put the song on tonight and googled Ottis reeding (Im always reading about him) but got on this article and it was like the song was going on with the story and I was explaining it to my 8 year old son as there is a huge emotion that comes along with this song that can not be explained…. Always a love and respect I will always have for this amazing man and his music

  11. Kimberly M. Poindexter says:

    Brian D’Ambrosio, you are a wonderful man, and a very talented writer. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and sad story about Otis Redding. I recently purchased a cd of his hit songs and could not stop crying. I love this man, his talent, his heart, his pain, and the deep love that he sings about. We were Blessed to have him on this earth as long as we did.

  12. Pat Mathe says:

    One of the greatest musicians of all time. Every song was soulful and a masterpiece,

  13. goldie long says:

    i love otis music. when listen to his music it real brighten my day. otis you may be gone but not forgotten. goldie long of calvert county

  14. Hubert says:

    Jimmey,Phalon,Carl,Ronnie,Matthew and Richard–RIP.

  15. Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thank you,
    However I am experiencing problems with your RSS.
    I don’t know the reason why I can’t subscribe to it. Is there anyone else
    getting identical RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond?


  16. Veronique Eyoufe.Nigeria says:

    I love Otis Redding so much nd miss him till date.i m over whelmed by d pain of his death.started listening to his music at 11yrs from elder brothers who had all his music collections.A handsome nd vibrant nd wonderful singer of all time.Always love U Otis.veronique .Nigeria.

  17. Otis is a legend and may his soul rest in peace,

  18. Randy says:

    Otis Redding died on my 12th birthday i loved his music, my favorite song was Try a little tenderness, his career was just taking off and he just had wrote the song Sitting on the dock of the bay before he left for Madison Wisconsin to perform there before his private plane went down in a storm, i believe his seat belt jammed and he couldn’t break free from his seat, very sad and so young, at the time he was making these hit songs my older brother was in Vietnam so his songs reminded me of those days back in the mid to late 60’s God bless this man he was very talented and full of life.

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