The Otis Redding Foundation is making dreams come true in Middle Georgia
Many kids dream of becoming famous singers, musicians, or even music producers when they grow up. The Otis Redding Foundation has been instrumental for several years in helping young people from across the United States get a little bit closer to making that dream a reality.
Before he passed tragically at the young age of 26, Otis Redding awarded scholarships to young students to help them continue their education. Through the dedication of those who knew and loved him, his legacy continues to make a difference today in the lives of many young musicians.
Mrs. Zelma Redding, Otis Redding’s widow, established the Otis Redding Foundation in Macon in 2007 to honor the legacy of the singer who was known as the “King of Soul”.
The Otis Redding Foundation’s mission is to empower, enrich, and motivate young people through educational programs that revolve around music.
The foundation offers special summer programs as well as private music lessons for students age 5 through 18 at the Otis Redding Center for the Arts. A groundbreaking for a new and larger Otis Redding Center for the Arts took place in September of 2022.
One of the programs that has helped make a difference for hundreds of young people from around the country is the Otis Music Camp program.
Every summer 50 or more campers come together at Otis Music Camp to do something that might seem impossible at first. Their lofty goal is to create a finished musical piece in two weeks.
Thankfully, the campers have the support and assistance of around 25 Otis Music Camp coaches and even music industry insiders who come speak with them about music related topics.
Attendees at Otis Music Camp learn how to sing and play instruments as well as write and produce music. They also learn important life skills like how to work well with others and handle the pressure of important deadlines.
Justin Andrews, Director of Special Projects and Outreach at the Otis Redding Foundation and Redding’s grandson and Kimberly Kelsey Epps, Center Director at the Otis Redding Foundation, recently spoke with Middle Georgia Times about some of the foundation's challenges during the past few years as well as some of the incredible successes that have come from Otis Music Camps.
The worldwide pandemic that started in 2020 caused many businesses, schools, and institutions around the country to put everything on hold for a while. It didn’t stop the Otis Music Camp though.
“These kids were not able to go to school, they weren’t able to see their friends, and so it was really important to us to still be able to offer the Otis Music Camp experience to them because I think it was a time they really needed it the most,” said Epps.
Through the use of specialized technology the young participants in Otis Music Camp were able to create music together and collaborate virtually.
One of songs created during Otis Music Camp in 2020 was the powerful “Show Love”.
“Show Love” uses excerpts from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. titled “Loving Your Enemies” and was released on his birthday earlier this year in honor of Dr. King
"Show Love" was written by Trevor Hudson, Daylen Clowers, Jayden Tolbert, Sharina Cody and Ella Smith, who were all campers at the Otis Music Camp in 2020. Saxton Keitt was one of the campers coaches and Isaac Gibson and Reese Soul did the mixing and mastering.
“We tasked them with writing something positive, something uplifting [and] that was a time when there was a lot going on. That was at the same time as George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery [were in the news] as well as the Pandemic [and] I think they were all kind of drowning in their thoughts and so this really gave…our campers a real outlet to be able to express all the things that they were feeling at the time,” said Epps.
Justin Andrews explained that it isn’t just the musical skills he sees blossom during Otis Music Camps.
“The confidence and the self-growth that [happens in] those kids can be seen. We have seen…tears, we’ve seen freak outs, we’ve seen everything,” Justin explains, “But the greatest thing is when a kid gets on that stage at the Grand in front of their peers and family and supporters from the community and they’re sitting there and they are clapping and enjoying the work that these kids have done. It's amazing to go on and see what that does for a kid moving forward in their career and school.”
There have been several big success stories that have come out of past Otis Music Camps.
One of them is the inspiring story of the well-known orchestra conductor Roderick Cox. Cox has been the subject of a documentary called "Conducting Life" and has worked with prestigious orchestras such as the NY Phil.
“Zelma Redding actually bought [Cox] his first French horn and that is really how he got started,” said Epps, “He came through Otis Music Camp and now he is a world renowned conductor…doing huge things.”
Another recent camper opened for Grammy award winning rapper Lil Baby.
The campers at Otis Music Camps don’t have to be musically gifted or even know how to play an instrument or sing to take part in the program.
“This is not something that your child has to be extremely musically inclined to be a part of. We take everyone from all backgrounds, all skill levels [and] any type of learning styles…All they need to do is show up and we will help them figure it out because all of us have some sort of music inside of us,” explained Andrews.
The popularity of Otis Music Camps means that they usually fill up quickly. Campers who come for their first time often come back every year until they are no longer eligible to attend.
Parents who want to give their children a unique experience that may lead them to careers in the music industry later on while helping them build their character now are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
The Otis Redding Foundation is always partnering with local organizations in the Middle Georgia community like Boys & Girls Clubs and school systems.
The foundation also often gives out both partial and full scholarships to kids who want to take part in their programs so that they can change even more lives through the power of the music that is inside all of us.
If you want to sign your kids up for an Otis Music Camp, Camp DREAM, or courses at the Otis Redding Center for the Arts, go to the Otis Redding Foundation's website or call (478) 742-5737.
This year the Otis Redding Foundation will host its 16th Annual Otis Music Camp from June 5th through 17th for those who are 12 to 18 years old.
Students ages 5 through 11 can attend Camp DREAM, a week long creative arts camp modeled after the Otis Music Camp. It takes place from July 10th through 14th.