Image Credit: Disney
Forgot password
Enter the email address you used when you joined and we'll send you instructions to reset your password.
If you used Apple or Google to create your account, this process will create a password for your existing account.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Reset password instructions sent. If you have an account with us, you will receive an email within a few minutes.
Something went wrong. Try again or contact support if the problem persists.
Singer Otis Redding performing at the Monterey Pop Festival at the Monterey Country Fairgrounds on June 17, 1967 in Monterey, California. (Photo by Elaine Mayes/Getty Images)
Photo by Elaine Mayes/Getty Images

How did singer Otis Redding die?

Soul singer Otis Redding was just 26 years old when he died in an accident

Otis Redding, also known as the King of Soul, was on an upward trajectory in his music career when it was cut short due to his untimely death at just 26 years old.

Recommended Videos

Redding recorded his first single, “These Arms of Mine,” in 1962, and the song catapulted to the No. 20 position on the R&B music charts the following year. His success gave way to more opportunities, and he was able to reach a broader audience. Initially, Redding performed small-scale gigs in the South to a predominantly Black audience, but his incredible talent and charisma soon made him popular with the white crowd.

The year before his death, Redding embarked on a European tour and visited major cities, and in June 1967, he performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival. He became so popular, in fact, that he was able to beat Elvis Presley in the Melody Maker poll as the top male vocalist of the year in 1967. Melody Maker was an influential music publication in the U.K. Before Redding won, Presley had held the top male vocalist spot for a decade. After his tour, Redding decided to spend more time writing songs and recording, which is what he was doing just before he died.

The days before his passing

Redding was working on a record just before his death. His producer, Steve Cropper, recalled how enthusiastic the singer was about it when he phoned him saying, “I’ve got a hit.” Redding went to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, in December 1967 to record “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of Bay,” which strayed from his usual music style. However, he wanted to expand his musical horizon to reach more people.  

After the session, the song was complete, but they figured there was something missing that could make it even better. Cropper proposed getting the Staple Singers to add backup vocals, which Redding thought was a good idea. They scheduled another session the following week. Meanwhile, Redding needed to leave Memphis, as he had a slew of gigs slated for that weekend.

Redding headed to Nashville and performed at Vanderbilt University. He then went to Ohio for an appearance on “Upbeat,” a variety show. That was followed by two sold-out shows at Leo’s Casino, an Ohio hotspot for R&B and Motown artists. His next two shows were in Madison, Wisconsin, but he never made it.

The plane crash

The weather wasn’t ideal on the day of their departure on Dec. 10, 1967. Thick fog blanketed the skies and it was raining heavily. Commercial flights were canceled and air controllers told Redding’s pilot, Richard Fraser, that it would be best not to proceed with the flight. The singer asked Fraser if he could fly them safely to Wisconsin despite the bad weather conditions, and he answered in the affirmative.

Redding boarded his private plane, a twin-engine Beechcraft that he had purchased just a couple of months before the flight, with his assistant and five members of the music group the Bar-Kays. The group left at about 12:30pm and according to reports, they were just a few miles near their destination some three hours later when something went wrong.

Fraser contacted the Dane County Regional Airport in Madison, asking for clearance to land, which he received. The plane started descending from the thick clouds just above Lake Monona, four miles away from the airport. The air traffic controller attempted to establish contact with Fraser to no avail. A witness on the lake said that the plane’s left side was lower than the right before it landed into the lake and slowly sank.

Rescue teams descended on the scene within minutes, but upon their arrival, the plane was already submerged. It was a difficult rescue mission due to the freezing water, but they spotted one person in the water. He was identified as trumpet player Ben Cauley, who was still strapped in his seat but was floating. Close to him were two others — the pilot and Redding’s assistant — but they were already gone. The others were also presumed dead, but the retrieval of their bodies was postponed to the next day as daylight had gone. Redding and the other passengers were discovered later, all deceased.

The aftermath

Cauley recalled the events leading up to the crash. He had been asleep during the flight when he awoke to the sounds of the engine and the pilot saying that he was having difficulties and then experienced a “funny spinning sensation” before the plane went into the water. He was seated behind Redding and said the singer remained calm and didn’t say or do anything before the crash.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released on Jan. 8, 1968, just a month after the accident. It catapulted to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in March of that year and it won two awards (Best Rhythm & Blues Song and Best Rhythm & Blues Vocal Performance in the male category) at the 11th Grammy Awards in 1969. Redding was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

We Got This Covered is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Jean Mendoza
Jean Mendoza
Jean has been a freelance writer since 2007 and has contributed to outlets such as Lomography, Inquisitr, and Grunge. Her expertise include true crime, history, and weird and interesting facts. Her spare time is spent listening to podcasts, reading books, and gaming.