In 1957, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a crowd in Montgomery, Ala., and proclaimed: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Though too modest to admit it, Nathaniel Colman could easily answer “everything.” Coleman, 50, has dedicated his life to the residents of the Coulee Region, both through his career as a full-time MTU bus driver and founder of The Good Fight Community Center.
In recognition of his positive impact, compassionate nature and tireless efforts, Coleman has been named the 2018 recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award. Bestowed annually, the award is given to someone who has shown leadership and a commitment to building community, enhancing diversity and working for justice. Coleman will be honored at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15, at the Viterbo University Fine Arts Center.
“(Coleman) is very committed to making this community a better place,” said John Medinger, the 2017 recipient of the MLK Leadership Award. “(This award is about) a life of service, and he’s certainly doing that in a number of ways, both at his job with the city and his work with young people. He’s a great role model for young people. He sustains them, supports them, holds them up and leads them on their way.”
Coleman was surprised when Medinger informed him he was being honored with the MLK Leadership Award.
“When I think about why I started this, it wasn’t for the recognition,” Coleman said. “That’s nice and good — I’m grateful, I’m happy — but I just wanted to help kids. Tomorrow I still have to run the community center.”
Coleman isn’t one for fanfare, and his preference to focus exposure on The Good Fight, not himself, is in fact one of things that makes him stand out.
“I love that the award is going this year to someone many people don’t know about but whose public service is important to everyone in La Crosse,” said Maureen Freedland, the 2012 recipient of the award. “... Nate embodies Dr. King’s call as an employee going beyond his employment responsibilities, serving a public which often reflects socioeconomic challenges and also people with special needs. He cares deeply about the people who depend on him ... He also devotes himself to the youth of tomorrow, as Dr. King would ask. This shows in his commitment to all La Crosse youth though establishment of The Good Fight Community Center.”
Coleman didn’t always see a life of service in his future. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side among gangs and crime, Coleman at times couldn’t see a future at all. Raised in a troubled home, he struggled in high school, and while he later found success at UW-Eau Claire, in the Marines and in his career, it all came crashing down a decade ago. Laid off from his job in Texas, he found himself homeless, unable to find work and spending nights in his car. Coleman found a job as dining facility manager at Fort McCoy, where he earned the Phillip A. Connelly Award for excellence in food service.
He later took a position as child care specialist at the Family and Children’s Center and marveled how a small thing like a snowball fight could reignite the youthful joy in a struggling child. The experience helped sparked the idea for The Good Fight.
“I hit a point in my life where I thought, ‘When I die, when it’s over, have I left something behind that has made this place better?’” Coleman said. “I spent years working for the money, the bonus checks, and I thought that was good, but I wasn’t passionate. Helping kids is my passion.”
Coleman does so on a daily basis at The Good Fight, which he started in 2016 with $90 from his pocket. The fitness and education center at 508 Jay St. provides a safe, supportive environment where at-risk or low-income youths can work on fitness and schoolwork. About 130 youth are currently enrolled, and pay a nominal fee for access to all the programming. Snacks and meals, field trips and campus visits are included at no extra charge.
In the facility’s Elsworth Smith Boxing Gym, named for a former Coleman classmate, kids can take out their frustrations in healthy manner, learn discipline and gain confidence; and the Larry Shapiro Education Program, named a beloved high school teacher, offers tutoring, college prep and resume building.
Coleman stresses setting goals and perseverance.
“The biggest thing (Larry) brought to my life is he wouldn’t let me slide or just get by or quit,” Coleman said. “That (lesson) is what I do with my kids. That’s how you find out what’s inside of you and how you grow.”
Coleman also works with youths from the La Crosse County juvenile detention center, offering encouragement and access to both The Good Fight’s gym and education centers.
“(These) are often kids many people give up on,” said Sonna Severson Jacobs, executive assistant at The Good Fight. “Nathaniel sees the potential and works hard to turn things around for them. Kids at The Good Fight are taught to give back to the society that supports them and to support one another. The members come from all backgrounds and are told they are all brothers and sisters.”
The Good Fight is funded by donations and staffed by volunteers. To help it thrive, Coleman declines to take a salary, depending on his job as a bus driver with MTU to support himself. Coleman extends his generous, caring nature to his riders. Known to personally escort elderly patrons to the curb, Coleman creates a welcoming atmosphere with plenty of friendly conversation.
“It’s like you’re traveling with friends in someone’s magical living room to your next destination,” said regular rider Cathy Van Maren.
MTU colleagues were among those who nominated Coleman, impressed by his exceptional service at work and his dedication to The Good Fight. Their affection for Coleman is shared by members of The Good Fight, many of whom will accompany Coleman to the Community Celebration. As always, Coleman sees the event as a learning opportunity, a chance to remind youth of the legacy of King, who Coleman says inspired his “courage to make the adjustment.”
“People like to think how far we’ve come,” Coleman said. “I like to think how far we go.”
Tethered to a breathing machine at a Manhattan hospital, 21-year-old Miriam Holman would die without a lung transplant. But her odds of finding a suitable organ were especially low in New York, where waiting times are among the longest in the country.
Just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, patients in far better condition routinely receive lungs much more quickly. Pockets of the South and Midwest also have dramatically shorter waiting times.
The disparities stem from a principle that has always guided the national transplant system: local first. Most organs stay in the areas where they are donated, even if sicker patients are waiting elsewhere.
But a federal judge’s recent emergency order in a lawsuit by Holman is threatening to upend decades of organ transplant policy and force places with a relative abundance of organs to start sharing more of them.
With too few donors to meet the demand — last year there were 33,610 transplants while 12,412 patients died on waiting lists or were removed from consideration because they were deemed too sick to survive surgery — transplant centers have long fought over how to allocate organs. California and New York, which have the most severe shortages, have been on the losing side of that battle.
Holman’s lawsuit against the federal government has opened a door to change that. The order issued in October by Robert Katzmann, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, spurred the government to immediately broaden access to lungs for many patients across the country. Now, the same legal arguments used in that case are being waged on behalf of liver patients.
“As soon as we had some success on the lung side, my phone started ringing on the liver side,” said Holman’s attorney, Motty Shulman. “Nobody should be getting a preference based on where they live.”
For transplant purposes, the U.S. is divided into 11 regions, which include 58 territories known as donation service areas. In general, each area has first crack at the organs collected there, with the sickest patients there first in line. Only when an organ is deemed unsuitable for all the patients in that area is it made available to patients elsewhere — first within the region, then nationwide.
Waiting times vary by donation service area because organ supply and demand are not spread evenly across the country. One area may be flush with organs because it has lots of fatal motorcycle accidents and transplant programs that don’t accept the most gravely ill patients. Another may face severe shortages because it has a large minority population — minorities tend to donate less — and high rates of liver or kidney disease.
The bottom line: How quickly a patient gets a transplant, and sometimes whether a patient gets a transplant at all, depend largely on where they are being treated.
At the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center — which added more liver patients to its waiting list than any other hospital in the country last year — the average wait for a liver is more than three years. At the Ochsner Medical Center outside New Orleans, it is just over two months. The national average is just over 14 months.
The local-first policy dates back to the early days of transplants, when pioneering hospitals created local networks to look for donors, and technology to preserve harvested organs for long transports was limited. The policy persists even though kidneys, livers, lungs and hearts can now be flown across large swaths of the country.
Tom Mone, chief executive of One Legacy, the nonprofit contracted to coordinate allocation in the donation service area that includes Los Angeles, says he has fought for years to bring more organs to Southern California but has been rebuffed by “the parochial self-interest of transplant centers” seeking to preserve short waiting times for their patients.
“As in politics, we seem to be more tribal than ever,” he said.
Defenders of the local-first policy say it allows more transplant centers to stay in business and provide the life-saving procedure to a wider swath of the U.S. population. Without such protections, the worry is that crowded, big-city centers would suck up all available organs.
In Charleston, S.C., the Medical University of South Carolina advertises
“The success of transplants is based on a gift from the local community,” he said. “Taking away organs from South Carolinians is unfair.”
ansplant surgeon at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, says allowing bigger centers to compete for organs donated in Kentucky would mean his patients would have to become sicker before receiving transplants — if they could hang on that long.
Many come from impoverished Appalachia and have other serious health problems that he said increase their risk of death without a transplant.
“It’s a challenge to take care of these patients already,” he said.
A series of reforms over the years have allowed the sickest patients to compete for hearts and livers beyond their own territories. Those changes usually came after years of debate.
The Holman lawsuit changed the lung policy in five days.
Holman suffers from a rare form of pulmonary hypertension — high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs — that killed her sister 13 years ago. She entered intensive care at Columbia University Medical Center in late September. Her rare AB blood type added to the difficulty of finding lungs.
Family members, who declined to be interviewed, filed suit after learning how the rules limited her chance for a transplant.
Her surgeon, Dr. Joshua Sonett, had co-written a 2013 analysis
“We’d been trying to change policy through scientific papers and standard petitioning,” Sonnet said. “If it takes a little policing from the outside to force us to change, that’s OK.”
Holman’s lawyers argued that allocating organs using “arbitrary boundaries” violated the federal law that set up the national transplant system in 1984. The law was updated in 2000 to say that medical need and not “accidents of geography” should be the primary factor in determining how long a patient waits for a transplant.
On Nov. 20, a U.S. District Court judge rejected an emergency motion to give Holman access to lungs outside her donation service area. But two days later Katzmann issued an order giving the government three days to report back on a rapid review of its lung policy.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services went further and on Nov. 25 established a new system for lung allocation that no longer relies on the 58 donation service areas. Instead, effective immediately, when lungs become available, they are offered first to the sickest patient within 250 nautical miles (slightly farther than a standard mile) of the hospital where they were donated.
The new policy will be kept in place for a year and then re-evaluated, officials said.
It will be felt most strongly in the Northeast, where donation service areas are small and densely populated and their boundaries created the most glaring disparities. Patients in New York can now compete for lungs across the state line in New Jersey and as far away as Boston and Washington, D.C. Patients in those places will also be able to claim organs from New York, but the change is expected to reduce the gap in waiting times.
Dr. Christian Bermudez, the head of lung transplantation at the University of Pennsylvania, predicted that the policy would hurt smaller East Coast transplant centers that until now had been able to perform transplants in healthier patients and lacked the ability to keep large numbers of very sick patients alive as they waited to rise to the top of the list.
The effect in the West is expected to be smaller. Most donation service areas are much larger, so the 250 miles generally doesn’t stretch into other areas with more plentiful organ supplies.
Still, the case has sent shockwaves throughout the transplant system, with many wondering whether it ultimately will affect the territorial allocation system for other organs.
In a Dec. 1 letter to federal transplant officials, Holman’s lawyer demanded similar changes in the allocation of livers on behalf of a new client with liver failure in New York.
The letter came three days before the board of the United Network for Organ Sharing, the contractor that administers the national transplant system, was scheduled to vote on a new liver scheme.
The liver plan it adopted builds on a 2013 policy change that gave the sickest patients — those scoring at least 35 on a 40-point scale used to assess liver condition and rank transplant candidates — priority not just within their donor service areas but throughout their regions.
The new scheme drops the threshold to 32 and adds patients outside the region if they are within 150 nautical miles of the donor hospital. As a counterweight to those changes, it also gives the nearest patients a small boost up the waiting list.
Officials said the policy would take effect late in 2018.
As with the new lung policy, it is expected to reduce the disparities in waiting times in the densely populated Northeast but do little for California.
“This plan is not even a half-measure,” said Sommer Gentry, a mathematician at the U.S. Naval Academy who studies geographic inequities in the system.
Some patients have beaten the system by temporarily relocating to places with better organ supplies — an option that Gentry said “undermines public trust” because it is only available to people with means.
Shulman says he is talking with several potential clients about challenging the new liver rules because they still use donation service areas and do little to improve access to organs for patients in vast Western states.
In her lawsuit over lungs, Holman had asked for an allocation zone of 500 miles, not 250. Still, the federal government’s new plan has improved her chances.
She remains on life support, waiting.
MADISON — This year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary is shaping up to be a drawn-out process with no clear front-runner, though many candidates are already taking strides to distinguish themselves.
There are 17 people who have either registered a campaign with the state or, in the case of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, are about to do so. And while almost all of them have websites, only nine have hired staff.
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, said at this point there is no front-runner and it’s conceivable more candidates could emerge, though that’s not because of weaknesses in the current field so much as the opportunity to ride what could be a Democratic wave election year.
The sprawling field is a reversal from four years ago when Madison School Board member Mary Burke faced nominal Democratic primary opposition before losing to Republican Gov. Scott Walker in the general election.
The dynamic makes it harder for the candidates to quickly raise large sums of money, which remains an important factor in elections. In 2014, Burke’s campaign spent $15.4 million and Walker’s spent $29.7 million.
“The challenge is, in a field of 17, how do you raise money?” said Pocan, who does not plan to endorse a candidate. “How do you reach out and make a case to voters?”
Illustrating the challenge: At a forum in Eau Claire last month the 12 Democratic candidates in attendance seated two deep on a crowded dais only got to answer three questions each.
Republicans have characterized the field as lacking a major Democratic figure — top state Democrats such as U.S. Reps. Ron Kind of La Crosse, Gwen Moore of Milwaukee and Pocan, and legislative leaders Jennifer Shilling, the state Senate minority leader from La Crosse, and Gordon Hintz, the Assembly minority leader from Oshkosh, have ruled out a run. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers has won three statewide elections, though in nonpartisan spring elections.
Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairwoman Martha Laning said the large field is an indicator that voters are fed up with Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. She said the party won’t be endorsing a candidate, though it might host a candidate forum. She said it’s unclear whether every candidate would be able to participate or if there would be some qualifying criteria.
“Who knows what’s going to happen? A year ago people were saying you don’t have any candidates,” Laning said. “It’s important for us to watch how the candidates run their campaigns and see how the public is responding to their messaging.”
She added the advantage of having so many candidates is there are “more people talking to their neighbors. When you have one person, only one person can get to so many people.”
The first major indicator of viability will come later this month when the campaigns report their 2017 fundraising totals. Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist who worked on Burke’s campaign and is not working for any candidate, said with the exception of those who announced late in the year campaigns should have at least $100,000 cash on hand if they want to remain competitive.
“The strongest candidates are going to be the ones who have been able to establish that fundraising base, have cash on hand and have been around the state multiple times to build the relationships they can leverage going forward,” Zepecki said.
Without any publicly available polling on the race so far, there are other indicators that could help clarify the field, Zepecki said, including whether campaigns have hired paid staff and established a following on social media. Endorsements will become increasingly important as well.
Candidates might also distinguish themselves by developing a message that appeals to grassroots voters, said Marina Dmitrijevic, executive director of the Wisconsin Working Families Party, a liberal group that has endorsed Democratic candidates.
Dmitrijevic’s Milwaukee-based group is working with the Bernie Sanders-affiliated Our Wisconsin Revolution to hold a series of 20 candidate forums around the state leading up to a joint endorsement. She said the first one last month in Milwaukee resembled a speed-dating event: Candidates moved between tables to answer voters’ questions while attendees could keep score for each candidate on a bingo card listing various liberal issues such as marijuana legalization and increasing the minimum wage.
“Honestly at this point nobody really wants to sit through a 15-person debate or forum,” Dmitrijevic said. “This next three- to six-month period is an interesting incubation period … This is less about the candidates right now and how people are trying to get excited and build a movement around someone.”
The current field could grow or shrink by June 1, when candidates have to file 2,000 nominating signatures and other paperwork. Some who have registered campaigns, including former Rep. Brett Hulsey and Sheboygan businessman Kurt Kober, said they no longer plan to run for governor. Kober said he is interested in running for lieutenant governor.
So far nine candidates have paid campaign staff — Evers (6), former state Democratic Party chairman Matt Flynn (4), Milwaukee area businessman Andy Gronik (7), former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe (3), Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell (4), former Rep. Kelda Roys of Madison (2), Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma (4) and Rep. Dana Wachs of Eau Claire, who didn’t disclose the number of staff he has hired. Soglin also has hired a campaign manager.
Evers, Wachs and Roys have endorsements from Democratic legislators, with Evers also landing support from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl and Wachs endorsed by former U.S. Rep. Dave Obey. Mitchell was endorsed by Moore, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney and two unions. Flynn was endorsed by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Gronik said he hasn’t sought endorsements and Vinehout and McCabe said their endorsements are from the people of Wisconsin who encouraged them to run.
McCabe was the only candidate with paid staff who disclosed his fundraising total to the Wisconsin State Journal, saying he expects to report more than $100,000 raised from more than 1,000 donors. Others said they will reveal their totals in an upcoming filing with the state.
The eight candidates with paid staff all traveled extensively last year attending dozens of public and private events.
Other registered candidates Michele Doolan, Bob Harlow, Dave Heaster, Andrew Lust, Jeffrey Rumbaugh and Ramona Whiteaker reported hiring no staff so far. Nicholas De Leon and Jared Landry have registered campaigns, but didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In terms of social media presence among those with paid staff, Gronik has the most combined Twitter and Facebook followers with more than 25,000 as of Jan. 2, followed by Evers (14,865), Vinehout (8,492), Roys (8,312), Wachs (6,706), Flynn (3,962) and McCabe (3,724). Soglin has combined 11,174 followers on Twitter and for his mayoral campaign Facebook page.
Walker’s combined Twitter and Facebook followers total more than 640,000.
“I do think with this many folks in the field and this early, social media is maybe a more important indicator right now than in the past we might have thought of it being,” said Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll, which will likely be in the field in February asking about the Democratic candidates. “We’re looking at a wide range of things that individually are fallible measures of how strong a candidate’s campaign is, but taken together — endorsements, getting to events, staff, social media presence — these are all tea leaves, and that might be the way to think about it.”
Walker’s campaign and the Republican Party of Wisconsin provided an additional indicator of which candidates are making the biggest splash so far, offering specific critiques of eight of them.
GOP spokesman Alec Zimmerman knocked Wachs’ opposition to the $10 billion Foxconn plant being built in Racine County with $3 billion in state tax credits, noting 450 companies in the state have applied to be suppliers.
He noted Flynn represented the Archdiocese of Milwaukee during the priest abuse scandal, Gronik was sued by a business partner, and McCabe’s group was funded by an organization backed by liberal billionaire George Soros.
He hammered Evers for not doing more to revoke the license of a Middleton teacher who viewed pornography at school and Vinehout for writing a character letter defending a man found guilty of possessing child pornography.
He also criticized Mitchell for quoting a poem about the Holocaust in describing the struggles of public sector workers during Act 10 and noted Roys lost a 2012 Congressional primary to Pocan by 50 points.
Walker himself called out Soglin last week for honoring then-Cuban president Fidel Castro with a key to the city in the 1970s, calling the act “extremism even by Madison standards.”
MADISON — The song is so memorable that just hearing its title brings the melody to mind.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” the hit single by Otis Redding that would become an American musical touchstone, was released 50 years ago this week, on Jan. 8, 1968.
Catchy, sing-able, yet filled with images of longing, “The Dock of the Bay” has a special — though tragic — connection to Madison. It was here that Redding perished, after his twin-engine plane crashed into the 34-degree waters of Lake Monona the afternoon of Dec, 10, 1967, killing the singer, his pilot, a young assistant and four teenage members of his band the Bar-Kays.
Redding was booked for two Madison shows that night at the Factory nightclub, which once stood at State and Gorham streets and where ticket-holders were already lining up outside the door.
The 26-year-old singer was on the cusp of super-stardom. A prolific songwriter, he’d just recorded “The Dock of the Bay,” co-written with guitarist Steve Cropper, in the Stax Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. After its early January release, “Dock of the Bay” would become the first posthumous No. 1 single in U.S. chart history, reach No. 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles charts at the same time, win two Grammy Awards and become part of a bittersweet soundtrack to troubled times.
“He was coming to Madison because there was an enthusiastic — more than enthusiastic — response from white listeners to what Otis was offering,” said cultural historian, author and UW-Madison professor of Afro-American studies Craig Werner, whose living room overlooks the lake where Redding died. “And that was just opening up at this period of his life.”
Waunakee native Jeff Kollath, who today is executive director of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, notes that the plane crash has become part of Madison’s local lore. And yet there is more to the story.
“It wasn’t just that the plane went down in Madison,” Kollath said.
Redding’s “wasn’t just a career cut short,” he said. “It was a career at a meteoric rise cut short.”
Redding was raised in Macon, Georgia, and he made his “Big ‘O’ Ranch” outside the city his home. Already a giant in the world of rhythm and blues, Redding was a sensation in Europe following a successful Stax Records tour there in the spring of 1967. An astonishing performance in the Monterey International Pop Festival that June secured his spot as a crossover performer.
Then Madison became part of the Otis Redding story.
“One of 8 Aboard Plane Saved; 5 Still Missing,” a Wisconsin State Journal headline reported the day after Redding’s plane nose-dived into Lake Monona, four miles short of Madison’s municipal airport. Only trumpet player Ben Cauley survived the crash; another band member had taken a commercial flight.
Today a memorial plaque, once in Law Park and now outside Monona Terrace, marks the tragedy; a “Try a Little Tenderness” mural on the side of the building at 1148 Williamson St. honors Redding’s spirit. Pieces of Redding’s plane, pulled from Lake Monona, have long been on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
Redding’s musical legacy continued here in part through the late Clyde Stubblefield, Madison’s “Funky Drummer,” noted Roy Elkins, founder and CEO of Broadjam, Inc. and the Between The Waves Madison Music Festival.
Stubblefield, who died last February at age 73, is best known for his work with James Brown, but also toured with Redding and “eventually settled here, tutoring hundreds of Madison musicians in his life,” Elkins said.
Energetic crowds attended last month’s Otis Redding tribute concert performed at the Majestic by Don’t Mess With Cupid, a band named for a Redding song and fronted by Madison musician Kevin Wilmott II.
“One of my favorite things about the show is that people come up to me afterwards and say ‘I didn’t know those were Otis’s songs,’” Wilmott said. The musician, 28, moved to Madison eight years ago.
“When I first heard Otis Redding died here, I didn’t believe it for awhile,” Wilmott said. “The more you live here, the more you hear about it. His life is so connected to Madison.”
James Danky was a 20-year-old student at Ripon College when he and four friends piled into a Volkswagen Beetle and drove to Madison in December 1967 to see the Otis Redding show that never took place. Though he didn’t own a turntable, Danky did own a copy of Redding’s “Live in Europe” LP that he’d listen to with headphones in the college listening room.
Three of his friends had worn black shirts to the Factory with “Otis Redding” embroidered on the back in gold, Danky said. When they heard the news of the crash, they made the mournful drive back to Ripon.
Redding “created the most extraordinary music,” said Danky, who would later become a professor of journalism at UW-Madison. “When we bought our tickets and made the plan (to see the show), obviously we had no idea ‘Dock of the Bay’ was coming.”
Written on a houseboat when he was visiting Sausalito, California, “The Dock of the Bay” was a turning point for Redding. Today it is ranked at No. 26 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
Madison-based Werner and Doug Bradley, co-authors of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War,” discovered during their research how much “The Dock of the Bay” meant to Vietnam veterans. Redding also had a following on Madison’s working-class East Side, said Werner, who views “Dock of the Bay” as a song about “loneliness, mixed with a sense of survival and peace.”
“You heard it once, and you knew you loved it,” he said.
It has special resonance for musicians, too, Elkins said.
“I think just about every musician will say they have played that song at some point in their career,” Elkins said.
“The simplicity of this melody defined the greatness of Otis Redding as a songwriter and the depth of his vocal ability as well. Very few can deliver a melody with pain and peace in the same phrase. When you hear him sing it, it sounds like he’s in pain, but at peace with it.”
When it was announced that Redding was coming to Madison to perform in late 1967, “it was a really big deal,” recalled Sharon Brewer Scanlan, who was a sophomore at UW-Madison at the time. She was a big fan of soul music, especially the Memphis sound, and bought tickets with a friend on her dorm floor to see Redding’s show at the Factory. They were standing outside in the cold when the news of his death was announced.
“It was pretty stunning when that happened,” she said. “It’s something you always remember. Fifty years later, you still remember exactly where you were and what it was like.”
The plane crash came at a time the U.S. was engaged in war in Vietnam, in a decade of political assassinations, racial tensions and cultural revolution. Scanlan recalled armed national guardsmen on campus in response to anti-war protests there.
Redding’s death served as “punctuation on a bad year,” said historian Stu Levitan, whose book “Madison in the Sixties” is due out this fall. With the anti-war Dow Chemical protests, local strikes and a serious traffic crash involving a campus beauty queen, the crash was yet another “tragic mark of distinction.”
In 2007 Redding’s widow Zelma wrote a letter, published in the State Journal, personally thanking the Madison responders who assisted after the plane crash 40 years earlier, including divers and Red Cross workers.
“I have often thought of those people and their families,” she wrote.”…(P)lease know that you will always hold a special place in our hearts.”
Today Zelma Redding oversees the Otis Redding Foundation, which runs a center for creative arts, a summer music camp for children and has plans to open a charter school with an arts emphasis. A concert scheduled for January 25 at New York City’s historic Apollo Theater, to be hosted by Whoopi Goldberg and featuring many musical notables, will benefit the foundation and mark the 50th anniversary of “The Dock of the Bay.”
On Tuesday, Rhino records will release a seven-inch single of the song – in its original recording, not the version best known today – on gold vinyl. In a few weeks, Don’t Mess With Cupid will bring another live night of Redding’s music to Madison.
“The part that’s really fun with the band is playing the music, and getting people out there enjoying it, rather than reminiscing on his passing,” said musician Wilmott, whose band will play March 22 at the North Street Cabaret, 610 North St.
“I think there should be an Otis Redding Street in Madison,” Wilmott said. “He didn’t get to play the show (here), but he wanted to.”