Seventeen Notes on Singing

Clifford Thompson in Agni:

Otis Redding


I was walking on our small green college campus, singing. Dave, beside me, tall and lank and not known for flattery, said, “You should sing, Cliff.” He thought a moment. “You do sing, Cliff.”

I shrugged and thanked him. “I can sing a little, I guess. I can’t perform.”

“They could teach you that stuff.”


One of my two favorite singers never learned that stuff. A gawky six foot one, Otis Redding, who couldn’t dance to save his life, would march in place on stage. “If you can’t march to it,” he once announced with an endearing defensiveness, “it ain’t no good!”


The basement of my family’s little house held much that my three older siblings once held dear. Along the white stucco walls were stacks of soul LPs and singles. On one red 45 was Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”—recorded in 1967, very shortly before his death at twenty-six in a plane crash. I discovered it in the summer of 1975, less than a year after my father died.

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