Throwback 1963: Otis Redding Debuts at the Apollo

Otis Redding
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Larry Fink/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Apollo Theater has stayed true to its historic promise splashed against the marquis, “Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made.” The iconic landmark is one of NYC’s most famous concert venues, serving as a stepping stone in the performances and careers of some of the most important artists of our time.  

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.

In Peter Guralnick’s "Sweet Soul Music," Huckaby described their meager financial circumstances when living in the “big old raggedy” Hotel Theresa. 

The financial duress continued - Redding and his band were paid $400 per week, but also had to pay $450 per week for the band’s sheet music. Ben E. King, headlining Redding’s performance that night, offered Redding $100 to help accommodate with the situation. 

Also joining the stage that night were The Coasters, The Falcons (including Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd), James Brown’s protege Doris Troy and Rufus Thomas. 

Redding was understandably nervous that night, as 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 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!”

Redding slowly came in and delivered his voice rich with emotion, the audience erupted into cheers and howls of adoration, and with his debut at the Apollo, he delivered his soul. 


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