As I write this, on January 8th, 2016, it is the 48th anniversary of the release of the Otis Redding single, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," recorded right here in Memphis at Stax Records. Cowritten by Booker T. & the MG's guitarist and music legend Steve Cropper, the song made Redding a household name and further cemented Memphis' position as being the real music capital of the world.
The song almost instantly became a global sensation, selling more than four million copies and garnering two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. "Dock of the Bay" was the sixth most-performed song of the 20th century, was ranked by Rolling Stone as No. 28 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and the album by the same name was named 161 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. (It was the second-highest ranking of Redding's songs on Rolling Stone's list. His "Respect," which later ushered in international success for Aretha Franklin — also from Memphis — was named No. five of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.)
Over the years, "Dock of the Bay" has been covered by the likes of Glen Campbell, Cher, Peggy Lee, Bob Dylan, Percy Sledge, Dee Clark, Sam & Dave, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, and countless others. In 2013, when President and Mrs. Barack Obama hosted a special concert at the White House to honor Memphis soul, Justin Timberlake — also from Memphis (well, a suburb of Memphis) — sang it for the POTUS and guests with millions of television viewers watching.
Unfortunately, Otis Redding never got to hear the final version of the song. Shortly after recording it, with just some finishing touches left to be added, he was killed, along with most of the members of the Memphis band, the Bar-Kays, in a plane crash. Redding was just 26 years old.
You might be wondering why I'm writing about this. I'm wondering too. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I work by day at the Soulsville Foundation, which operates the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Music Academy, and the Soulsville Charter School, so, yeah, this is a little self-serving. I'll take that even one step further and mention that we have our largest fund-raiser of the year, Staxtacular, on the 29th of this month. It's hosted by Vince Carter and the Memphis Grizzlies, and you should all think about attending to help us help out the thousands of kids we work with, based on the legacy of Stax Records. We believe that if you give someone a chance to succeed, they just might succeed against all kinds of odds.
We're in a neighborhood where virtually everyone lives at or below the poverty level, but they are, by and large, awesome people. One hundred percent of our Soulsville Charter School seniors have been accepted to college for the four years we've had graduating classes, all with some kind of scholarship or grant. There have been 207 seniors so far, and they've earned more than $30 million in scholarships and grants to schools, including Brown University, Tufts University, University of Pennsylvania, Wesleyan, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Middle Tennessee State University, and many, yes, right here at Southwest Tennessee Community College. Since 2008, every senior enrolled at the Stax Music Academy has been accepted to college. I'm not even sure how many have been and/or are now at Berklee College of Music in Boston on full scholarships.
The Stax Museum is a beacon in the neighborhood, with visitors from every continent making the pilgrimage to Memphis and Stax and Sun Studios and Graceland every year. Yet, there are people in Memphis who know nothing about this organization. And there are those who truly get what all this means, and they love Memphis for what it is, despite the lists of fattest, poorest, most dangerous, and that other bull-roar that rears its ugly head when Forbes or some other source lays the crap on us.
And don't get me started on Nashville. Ugh. I don't hate Nashville, but I would hate Memphis if it started trying to be Nashville. We are not Nashville, thank goodness. And we are not Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, or, God forbid, Austin.
We are the city where Al Green recorded "Love and Happiness" and "Take Me to the River" and "Let's Stay Together" and where Bruno Mars recently recorded the global sensation "Uptown Funk" in the very same rooms where Green changed the music world and where Ann Peebles recorded "I Can't Stand the Rain." We are the city where, 48 years ago, Otis Redding recorded "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." Why don't we all make a New Year's resolution in 2016 to stand up and stake our claim?