Meet the soul serenaders of September: Otis Redding, Barry White, Brook Benton, and Ray Charles

Meet the soul serenaders of September: Otis Redding, Barry White, Brook Benton, and Ray Charles

There must have been something in the air in September: It’s a month that gifted the world with a stellar group of Black R&B crooners. As the headline promises, four of my all-time favorites were born this month, and though they have all left this mortal plane, their music continues to entrance new generations of listeners. 

This #BlackMusicSunday, let’s celebrate the lives of Otis Redding, Barry White, Brook Benton, and Ray Charles, as we take a listen to four soul brothers who sold millions of records, garnered major awards, and still have fans around the globe.

On Sept. 9, 1941, Otis Redding was born in Georgia, and his official website details his earliest beginnings.

Born in Dawson, Ga., Otis Redding, Jr. and his family moved to Macon when he was two years old. At an early age, he began his career as a singer and musician in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church. He attended Ballard Hudson High School and participated in the school band. As a teenager, he began to compete in the Douglass Theatre talent shows for the five-dollar prize. After winning 15 times straight, Otis was no longer allowed to compete.

Otis joined Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers in 1958, and would also sing at the “Teenage Party” talent shows sponsored by local celebrity disc jockey King Bee, Hamp Swain, on Saturday mornings initially at the Roxy Theater and later at the Douglass Theatre in Macon.

Otis drove Johnny Jenkins to Memphis, Tenn., for a recording session in August 1962 at Stax Records. At the end of the session, Stax co-owner Jim Stewart allowed Otis to cut a couple of songs with the remaining studio time. The result was “These Arms Of Mine”, released in 1962. This was the first of many hit singles (including classics “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “respect” and “Try A Little Tenderness”) that Redding enjoyed during his tragically short career. After nine months, he was invited to perform at the Apollo Theatre for a live recording and would go on to showcase his dance movements with “Shake” and “Satisfaction.”

Enjoy Redding’s first single!

I had the amazing good fortune to see Redding perform at the Apollo Theatre in 1965 and hang out for a little bit in his dressing room, thanks to soul singer Maxine Brown, who I was working for at the time. He was completely different from most of the men I had met in the music business; all he wanted to talk about that day were about his farm animals back home in Georgia!

David Nathan revisited his first performance at the Apollo in 1963 in a post at SoulMusic. 

Flashback to 1963, Otis Redding, his brother Rodgers and his childhood friend Sylvester Huckaby arrived at Apollo Theater to perform and record the live album Pain in My Heart. Despite having won at the local Sunday night talent shows in his hometown fifteen times and being prohibited from competing any longer, Redding was struck by both his nerves and his financial hardships at the Apollo.

[…]

Redding was understandably nervous that night, as {Ben E.] King recalled, “the big, bearlike man, sweating and trembling worrying about his suit his voice, the band.” He added, “Otis told me he was up from home and he was terrified…[he] said to me, ‘You think that they’re gonna go for what I do, what we do down home? But as long as I knew him, Otis never did get over that little bit of stage fright. He looked over at Rufus [Thomas] that night…”

Thomas was set to come onto the stage after Redding, and he revealed how Apollo MC King Coleman set Redding’s nerves at ease. “He showed Otis how to catch the eye of one just, just one girl, and sing to her, so that her enthusiasm spread through the crowd.” When Redding came onto the stage that night, Coleman introduced him with just one line, “He can sing, baby, he can sing!”

Listen for how the crowd receives him.

Though The Rolling Stones had a major hit with “Satisfaction,” Redding’s version has also had a major impact on soul history.

I worked as a waitress at Andy Warhol’s club “The Dom” on the Lower East Side of NYC where the house band was The Velvet Underground. I will never forget hanging with them at Lou Reed’s apartment—where he would get stoned and play one record over and over and over again: Redding’s version of “Satisfaction.”

In June 1967, Redding performed at the Monterey Pop Festival—his first major crossover performance in front of an almost entirely white audience.

It would also be his last major performance; six months later, Redding and his band, the Bar-Kays, were in a terrible plane crash. Frank Beacham writes:

By 1967, Redding and the Bar-Kays were traveling to gigs on Redding’s Beechcraft H18. Late that year they flew to Nashville, and on December 9, 1967, appeared on the Upbeat television show produced in Cleveland. They played three concerts in two nights at a small club called Leo’s Casino.

After a phone call with [his wife] Zelma and their children, Redding’s next stop was Madison, Wisconsin. On the next day they were to play at the Factory nightclub near the University of Wisconsin. Although the weather was poor, with heavy rain and fog and despite warnings, the plane took off. Four miles from their destination at Truax Field in Madison, the pilot radioed for permission to land. Shortly thereafter, the plane crashed into Lake Monona. 

[…]

Other victims were pilot Richard Fraser, drummer Matthew Kelly, lead guitarist of the Bar-Kays Jimmy King, tenor saxophonist Phalon Jones, organist Ronnie Caldwell and drummer Carl Cunningham.

Redding’s funeral took place at the City Auditorium in Macon, where more than 4,500 people attended.

Trumpet player Ben Cauley was the only person who survived that fatal flight.

For a deeper dive into Redding’s short life and powerful impact on the world of music, his biography, Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould, is a must-read.

Alan Light reviewed the biography for The New York Times in 2017 and closed with this observation:

Though Redding wrote or co-wrote classics like “Respect” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” certainly much of his greatest work came as an interpretive singer, often of such seemingly unlikely material as “Satisfaction” (a rare example, Gould writes, of “a black artist soliciting the attention of white listeners by riding roughshod over one of the great pop songs of the day”) or his showstopping, sweat-drenched version of “Try a Little Tenderness” (“an act of cultural appropriation, not accommodation”).

Famously, Otis Redding couldn’t dance worth a damn. And he wasn’t flashy — he was happiest at his Big O Ranch in rural Georgia. (When he and Carla Thomas playfully trade insults on 1967’s “Tramp,” she says to Redding, “you’re country” and he replies, “That’s good.”) But what his voice conveyed to listeners was an immediate, almost unparalleled connection; he could wring inconceivable intensity and complexity out of a minimal phrase and returned, most often, to the basic, raw power of love. He was, Gould writes, “soul music’s greatest apostle of devotion.”

For Otis Redding, the idea was simple, even when the people around him sometimes didn’t get it. “Always think different from the next person,” he once said. “Don’t ever do a song as you heard somebody else do it.”

Before I move on from Redding’s story, that last bit inspires me to include “Tramp,” a duet of Redding with Carla Thomas, daughter of Rufus.

***

Born three years after Otis Redding, on Sept. 12, 1944, Barry White was the product of the urban inner city, far removed from the country. Though he was born in Galveston, Texas, as Barry Eugene Carter, he grew up in South Central Los Angeles and took his dad’s surname, though his mom, Sadie Marie Carter, had never married his father, Melvin A. White.  

White’s New York Times obituary, written by Jon Pareles after his death on July 4, 2003, looks at his early life.

Mr. White’s childhood was as rough as his songs were smooth. He was born in Galveston, Tex., where he learned gospel singing from his mother and taught himself to play piano and organ. After his family moved to Los Angeles, he made his recording debut at 11, playing piano on the Jesse Belvin hit “Goodnight My Love.” But living in the poor neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, he was also in and out of trouble, and in 1960 spent seven months in jail for stealing tires.

According to Mr. White’s 1999 autobiography, “Love Unlimited: Insights on Life and Love” (Broadway Books), while in jail he heard Elvis Presley’s hit “It’s Now or Never,” and decided to give up crime. His brother Darryl was shot and killed in a dispute over small change in 1983.

He became a singer and pianist with a Los Angeles rhythm-and-blues group, the Upfronts, and helped arrange Bob and Earl’s 1963 hit, “The Harlem Shuffle,” later remade by the Rolling Stones. He toured with the rhythm-and-blues singer Jackie Lee. During a stop in Alabama, he called a white operator “baby” while phoning home. Moments later, the police pulled up next to his phone booth and threatened him with jail if he did it again.

For White’s birthday this year, Ian McCann wrote a tribute at uDiscover Music.

How much is too much? Sex and seduction can be a difficult issue in music. In the 70s, not many artists could get away with being explicit about sex. Donna Summer; reggae singer Max Romeo, on occasion; Marvin Gaye on the likes of “You Sure Love To Ball,” but they walked a thin line between taste and ridiculousness. Romeo took to denying that his jokey 1969 hit “Wet Dream” was about sex. Donna Summer abandoned the abandonment that made “Love To Love You Baby” her breakthrough hit. And Marvin only got away with his sexy stuff because he was a handsome musical genius who could do what he liked. Barry White’s romantic soul, however, came from a different place entirely.

When you are a guy who is not conventionally handsome, not given to joking about intimacy, whose musical ability remains unknown to the public, and who is actually quite reserved and not remotely desperate for fame, how do you become the lord of bedroom soul? When you are, to use a sporting term, a big unit, yet highly romantic and sincerely passionate, how do you convince an audience to take you seriously as creator of sultry grooves to fuel the population boom?

The answer is: you stay dignified. You make damn fine soul music. And you express your vulnerability in song. Look at me, you say. I am a big, strong fella, but my desire for you has brought me to my knees. This is a feeling any lover could understand. This is a message to make female fans swoon. This is the magic of the truly great Barry White, the most underrated of all of the icons of African-American music.

When I think about the 1970s and disco soul blends with R&B, I often forget that songs by Barry White were played at every party I went to and every club I danced in, and how his lyrics were often whispered into my ears by guys I was dating, in hopes they could stir up my hormones. For those folks who tend to dismiss anything related to disco, I’ll take time today to differ with them: Popular music is popular music, and White’s 11 GRAMMY nominations and two awards are nothing to sneer at. 

Though posted below is only a 20-minute segment of the 2007 documentary Let The Music Play: The Barry White Story, I’m planning to get my hands on the whole thing. 

For those of you who are White fans, here’s a full concert with Love Unlimited.

Since I posted a Redding duet, thought I’d include this White performance with Dionne Warwick.

***

Born over a decade before Redding and White, Brook Benton was yet another songwriting soul singer born in September. This biography from Musician Guide sheds some light on his early years, including his roots in gospel.

Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay in Camden, South Carolina, on September 19, 1931. His father was a Methodist minister, and Benton sang in his church as a child. His interest in gospel music continued into his teens, and he performed with local gospel groups for a time. But when he was seventeen, Benton left for New York City to try and make it in more secular music. At first he had to make his living driving trucks and washing dishes, but eventually he found work singing on demo tapes for songwriters who were trying to sell their compositions to established stars.

Benton began writing songs of his own and in 1955 formed a writing partnership with Clyde Otis. The pair made demo tapes of their compositions, with Benton providing the vocals. Benton and Otis’s big break came when the legendary Nat King Cole heard their “Looking Back” and decided to record it; when it became a huge success, more business was drawn to the duo. They sold other songs to Cole as well, and wrote the smash “A Lover’s Question” for rhythm-and-blues artist Clyde McPhatter. Benton and Otis also provided hits for the likes of Patti Page and Roy Hamilton.

By 1959 Benton realized that what Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis labeled his “elegant” baritone was being wasted on demo tapes. After he and Otis composed the sad but hopeful “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” Benton won the attention of Mercury Records, and the company signed the young vocalist. As a reporter for Ebony magazine noted, “‘It’s Just a Matter of Time’ skyrocketed up the charts.” A series of solo hits followed, including “Endlessly,” “Thank You, Pretty Baby,” and “So Close.” Benton added to his fame when he recorded the album The Two of Us with acclaimed jazz singer Dinah Washington. Together they climbed the charts with the upbeat “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes” and “A Rockin’ Good Way.”

You’ll recognize this Benton and Cole hit, written for Clyde McPhatter.

I remember Benton singing “It’s Just a Matter of Time” on The Ed Sullivan Show. 

Rick Moore, writing for American Songwriter, details the background story behind one of Benton’s greatest hits—which was, despite his songwriting success, a song the singer did not write.

As the ‘60s passed, and the Beatles and Motown dominated the charts, Benton’s success waned. That is, until he recorded “Rainy Night in Georgia,” a song written by a drawling Louisiana singer named Tony Joe White.

A song about a man without a home and missing his sweetheart, “Rainy Night in Georgia” was a big comeback for Benton, with his velvet baritone-to-tenor performance unexpectedly topping the charts. The single sold over a million copies, re-igniting his career. It featured a legendary bluesy but melodic guitar line by Cornell Dupree, and a luxurious string arrangement by the legendary producer Arif Mardin, who went on to work with everyone from the Bee Gees to Norah Jones.

Enjoy the 1970 hit below.

Daily Kos Community member Vetwife wrote a story this summer about Brook Benton doing a free show in Austell, Georgia—and getting fired from a paid gig as a result.

… the not so good local band [was] playing “Hanky Panky” [and] sounded nothing like Tommy James and the Shondells, but it was a band. I had just gobbled down a sandwich and had a gallon jug of tea and some ice in a small cooler I had brought. I had two plastic cups and as my 6 year old and me were sitting in a partially shaded area … I leaned back on my pocketbook and closed my eyes. He liked to copy Mama so he laid back on the quilt as well.  The day was very warm. Something caught my ear. The band was still not so hot but the deep rich voice made me open my eyes and think, “Wow that voice sounds just like, and I sat up and putting my hands over my eyes squinching, to get a look, I yelled , “That sounds ..oh my, that is, Brook Benton”. My son sat up and said, “ Who is that”? I grabbed my pocketbook as other people started heading for the bandstand as I was while several other musicians were taking over the instruments”. There was no way that little local band could play for this man. I knew. I had played at these kind of events for years in a local band when I was a teenager.  

I was smiling from ear to ear. My son was having to almost run to keep up with my fast pace walking to get a better look as I heard “Rainy Night in Georgia” coming from the bandstand and people applauding. There were hundreds applauding. I then heard Brook Benton say, “I got bored in the motel room and I got a show tonight but hey I wanted to sing for ya’ll today”. He was a bit inebriated, as he was staggering a bit, but we were thrilled. There is no voice that could copy Brook Benton’s. He has a deep, rich, smooth voice of soul. He then started singing the [Boll Weevil] song. I was applauding like I was at a full concert, which I was, and as he sang a few songs, he then left the stage. We were still applauding.

I went back to my quilt as clouds were gathering and I saw the Brook Benton tonight being taken down from [a local] lounge sign on my way home. It was well known that he was fired for putting on a free show on May Day for us poor folks who wanted to attend his show but could not. I shook my head. I am sure people would have paid to see him if they could have afforded it. The owner of the lounge was really ticked off, I heard.

Brooke Benton may have done 1000 shows after that, I don’t know, but I know what he did that day for the people of Austell, Ga. was the mark of a true and passionate musician who wanted to simply entertain. I had more respect for him than almost if any other singer at that time.

Brock Peters hosted this live performance by Benton in 1983.

Keeping up with the duet inclusion, this is my favorite duet he did, with the incomparable Dinah Washington.

***

Last, but certainly not least in this roundup of September-born stars, is Ray Charles. His music spanned multiple genres: soul, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, country, and pop. This short biography from his official website paints his impact in the broadest of strokes.

Born Ray Charles Robinson on September 23, 1930, in Albany, Georgia, he was raised in Greenville, Florida, and started playing the piano before he was five. At age six, he contracted glaucoma that eventually left him blind. He studied composition (writing music in Braille) and learned to play the alto saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and organ while attending the St. Augustine School for the Deaf and the Blind from 1937 to 1945. His father died when he was 10, his mother five years later, and he left school to work in dance bands around Florida, dropping his last name to avoid confusion with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. In 1947, with $600 he moved to Seattle and worked as a Nat “King” Cole-style crooner.

In the decades after Seattle, Ray Charles continued his contributions to the many facets of music in which he excelled. His numerous awards include 8 honorary doctoral degrees, 17 GRAMMYs, the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, President’s Merit Award, Kennedy Center Honors, National Medal of the Arts and his Playboy Awards. Heads of State, Presidents, Political Dignitaries and members of Royal families have recognized him repeatedly. The King and Queen of Sweden chose him to receive the Polar Music Award, which is that country’s most prestigious award. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #10 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and #2 on their list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” And in 2013 Ray Charles even received a United States Postal Stamp.

Now that is a musical resume that cannot be beat!

I opened my Mother’s Day tribute with Charles this year; I am going to focus on Charles “the crooner” today.

In many ways, his greatest love song was not sung to a woman but to the state of his birth. “Georgia on My Mind” was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930; Charles’ recording of it in 1960 won Grammy awards for Best Male Vocal Recording and Best Pop Song Performance.

Georgia’s legislature designated “Georgia on My Mind” the official state song in April 1979; a month earlier, Charles performed the song for the state representatives and senators.

This month, Charles’ official YouTube channel released this music video of the timeless hit.

Moving past “Georgia,” Charles won a GRAMMY for his version of Leon Russell’s classic “A Song For You” in 1993, one of his 17 wins and 37 nominations in his lifetime. Enjoy this live version, performed at Montreux in 1997.

Charles recorded Jacque Brel’s “If You Go Away” (“Ne me quitte pas”) on the album Come Live with Me in 1974. Here’s a lovely live performance from a 1999 benefit for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.

I could (and one Sunday might) write an entire story just on the long list of duets Charles sang with a host of artists, including on his posthumously released album, Genius Loves CompanyThis final duet today will take us out on an up note: It’s Charles and Aretha Franklin, singing “Takes Two to Tango” on Midnight Special back in 1975.

Join me in the comments for lots more music, and be sure to post your favorite tunes from Otis Redding, Barry White, Brook Benton, and Ray Charles.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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