Front and Center: Karla Redding-Andrews, Executive Director of the Otis Redding Foundation
By Leslie Buttonow
Studies have shown that kids who play music do better in school, and kids involved in worthwhile extracurricular activities increase their self-esteem and discipline, and build their leadership skills. But beyond the boundaries of formal studies, activities like music have the power to transform lives and create strong ties and bonds between people that can’t be measured on paper. The children of Macon, GA and surrounding communities have been fortunate to have access to a wealth of such skill-building programs and life-transforming opportunities through the efforts of Karla Redding-Andrews and the Otis Redding Foundation.
The Otis Redding Foundation’s mission is to empower, enrich and motivate youth through education in music, which was of utmost importance to Otis Redding, and a dream that his daughter is proud to carry on. As the executive director for the foundation, Karla Redding-Andrews is focused on her father’s philanthropic efforts by overseeing a number of the foundation’s programs that offer young people music education opportunities.
Redding-Andrews also uses her experience to benefit a broader audience by sitting on a number of music and arts-related boards, including the Georgia Music Foundation, the Georgia Film, Music & Digital Entertainment Advisory Commission, the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings Board of Visitors, the Community Foundation of Central Georgia and the Governing Board of the DREAM Academy, a future arts-integrated charter school.
For more information about Karla Redding-Andrews and the Otis Redding Foundation, visit www.otisreddingfoundation.org.
The WiMN: Tell us a little about the foundation’s beginnings and how it came to fruition. What are some of the programs the foundation offers to children?
KRA: My father had always believed in the power of education, and how much it can change the path of a young person. That held true then and it holds true even more today—and we believe that music and arts education should be fundamental to any young person’s life, no matter what their background. My mother started this Foundation in my father’s honor in 1999, and we started by supporting young musicians with scholarships and connections to get them what they needed to be successful. We’ve grown immensely since then, with programs like the Otis Music Camp, which just celebrated its 10 year anniversary! We first offered this unique programming to a handful of kids, and it has grown, mostly by word of mouth, to a two-week camp with over 60 young musicians coming to learn, and 35 professional musicians who are there to guide them. We have also expanded the Otis Redding Center for Creative Arts, which is offering lessons in voice, piano, guitar, drums and more—as well as a new program, debuting in January, called “I Write the Songs,” which will give our students a special insight into the skills and business of song craft.
The WiMN: How did music influence you personally, growing up? How did that shape your desire to provide music education opportunities for children today?
KRA: I’ve always loved music—and that’s not just because I’m the daughter of Otis Redding! I don’t have the voice or musical abilities of my father or my brothers—all of whom have had careers in music—but I do have the love. And I do know what a difference it can make in a young person’s life; just the exposure and the opportunity. Seeing the joy in a child’s face when they experience music—whether it is watching a performance or performing for someone else—it creates a spark that can ignite the imagination and create growth in a young person. It expands their minds, boosts their confidence, and creates connections and relationships. And this isn’t just proved in studies and numbers; I see it every day in our kids who come to camp and the center. They might start out nervous and shy, having never held an instrument in their lives, but at the end of camp, they are blasting some notes on a horn in a piece they helped write.
The WiMN: The foundation’s efforts have grown over time to now include the Otis Redding Center for Creative Arts, which provides weekend and after-school music programs and lessons. How has it made a positive impact on the children in the community?
KRA: Every year when our camp ends, I get kids coming up to me asking why we can’t do this all the time, year round. And we wanted to make that happen! So finally, with the support of my mother, and some generous donors and grant support, we renovated the space next door to our offices, and created the Center. We now have a place that unites all of our programming, students and instructors. It’s somewhere for lessons to take place every day, somewhere for our DREAM Choir to rehearse, and a facility for workshops and special professional musician sessions. We can keep up with all our amazing students and see how they progress, and they can make more connections with other young artists and discover more opportunities that we help create. We wanted to have a welcoming, safe, fun environment to keep connected to all our students, for them to use.
The WiMN: And in the summer, children can apply to attend the Otis Music Camp and learn from professional musicians and educators. What are some of the highlights of the camp each year?
KRA: I love our jam sessions! Seeing long-term and new campers interact with each other and the coaches, to create these works of art, it’s so inspiring. They cross boundaries and genres without a care. And then at the end of it all, we have our amazing finale, which is a huge production. Now that it’s been open to the public for a few years, we’ve had to find bigger venues every time, which is a great problem to have! The kids and the coaches always put on this incredible show, and all the hard work they put in over the two weeks really shows. Giving them the opportunity to perform in front of this huge audience—the community comes out in droves to support us, which is wonderful—is a huge deal.
The WiMN: Are there any particularly memorable stories about how your foundation has changed a child’s life for the better or inspired them to pursue music as a career?
KRA: My favorite story is that of Roderick Cox, a young black man who lived in Macon and wanted to study music. Our connections at the Boys and Girls Club told us that he had the opportunity to go to college for music, but he needed an instrument in order to attend. My mother, in one of the Foundation’s first gifting programs, gave that young man a French horn. We continued to support him through programs in Oxford, England and the Czech Republic, and he went on to become the Alabama Symphony’s Youth Orchestra’s music director and assistant conductor. He is now the assistant conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra.
The WiMN: Many aspects of the music industry have traditionally been male-dominated. It seems that programs such as yours help to level the playing field and create more opportunities for young girls to develop and chase their interest in music. Have you found more girls taking an interest in these programs as the years went on?
KRA: We’ve always had a great mixture of girls and boys, one that we encourage, of course, and we’ve always made sure that the girls who come to us are never discouraged from the outlet they choose. As we’ve grown, we have had more young women taking part, and a lot of that has to do with us expanding and growing as well as providing an encouraging environment for all our students. Recently, we’ve had girls who want to be drummers, rappers, saxophonists, engineers—all of which can be male-dominated areas. We’ve made sure they are supported by the right coaches and professionals at camp and in further programs so that they don’t lose that initial love and excitement. Our coaches and instructors are always diverse and well-rounded, so that there’s never that possibility of a student thinking their dream is not founded in reality.
The WiMN: It must make you proud to be able to honor your father’s dream of empowering and improving the lives of children through music and education. In that spirit, what words of wisdom or encouragement would you give to young, aspiring musicians?
KRA: Keep working at your craft, and educate yourself! My father never had the opportunity to finish school, but he learned the ways of the music industry to protect himself and his art. And when he passed away, it fell on my mother to educate herself to protect the legacy my father left behind. She took it upon herself to become an expert in the music industry, when she had been told that it was no place she needed to be. And today, it’s easier than ever to find those resources. We take care to teach them at camp, with professionals from music publishing and marketing sharing stories and lessons about how to protect yourself.
The WiMN: Please share some thoughts on what it’s like being honored at the upcoming She Rocks Awards.
KRA: Being a part of such an amazing group of women is an incredible honor! To have been nominated by my two wonderful friends, Dinah Gretsch and Lisa Love, both of whom I admire and love so much, has been so heartwarming. Of course, we do all the work we do for the love of music and education, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do, but this is a very special award, with very special significance in my heart.