In 2011 I chatted with Zelma Redding, widow of the great soul singer Otis Redding. I was heading up the licensing department at Warner Music Group. A request came in to license Otis Redding’s recording of “Try a Little Tenderness” as a sample in a new track by JAY Z and Kanye West, which they called “Tenderness.” Warner controlled the Redding master recording via a license with Stax Records. Stax is now owned by Concord Music, so my contact for such deals was an executive at Concord rather than the Stax recording artists. We worked out a deal. Being the Redding sample made up a huge part of the new track, we asked that Otis Redding be given a featuring credit.

Days before the new song was to hit iTunes, Island Def Jam, the label releasing the JAY Z/Kanye West collaboration, told my team they wish to change the song title from “Tenderness” to “Otis.” I liked that idea. I relayed this to Concord. Soon, my phone rang. It was Zelma Redding. More than discuss the deal points of the license, she wanted to make sure that this song named after her late husband wouldn’t defame the man. I’m happy to say we hit it off right away. She was a pleasure to work with. Though I am respectful toward all artists I represent, I am a huge Otis Redding fan, which I made clear to her. I wouldn’t do a deal that would disparage him in any way.

The JAY Z and Kanye West featuring Otis Redding track “Otis” broke the US iTunes store one-week sales record when it came out in July of 2011, selling nearly 290,000 downloads. It since has sold over 1,000,000 downloads stateside. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Song and won the Grammy for Best Rap Performance. Its reception brought Otis Redding to the attention of many younger listeners. Said Zelma, “We are proud that Otis’ legacy continues to inspire some of today’s popular artists. We like ‘Otis’ and thank Kanye and Jay-Z for honoring our Otis through their music.”

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Today is Otis Redding’s birthday. Tunes du Jour pays homage to the man who Rolling Stone named one of the ten best singers of all-time.

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