PFC co-founder Mark Johnson was recently featured on the Inspired Money podcast with Andy Wang. Check out his interview below where he discusses how the playing For Change movement began, the power of music, and the amazing work the Playing For Chang Foundation is doing all over the world!
In the 50 years since its release, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” has become a timeless classic of Otis Redding‘s and a permanent landmark in our world’s musical history. By the age of 26, his music had reached the heights of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and touched the ears of millions of listeners from across the world. Despite his passing at an early age, Otis Redding left a legacy of music that will continue to span the generations as songs like “Dock of the Bay” retain their relevant nature and timeless touch.
As a young artist, Otis Redding was already bursting with talent. He began as a gospel singer in the Vineville Baptist Church choir where he also picked up the guitar and the piano, and later, drums. By age 10, he found weekly employment singing on WIBB radio in Macon, Georgia, and later, compete in a radio talent show called, “The Teenage Party,” which he would go on to win 15-consecutive times. Having left school at a young age to support his family, Otis Redding‘s future was now beginning to reveal itself, and upon leaving his home in Georgia, he and his sister, Deborah, would make the move out to Los Angeles where he could officially begin his career.
It did not take long before Otis found his rhythm, first through his recordings of popular ballads, and later by writing, recording, and performing his own songs. Some of his greatest work includes, “These Arms of Mine,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “Respect” (yes, that Respect), “Mr. Pitiful,” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” At the height of his career, “Dock of the Bay” would become Otis Redding‘s most successful song, with its final version recorded just days before his untimely death at the age of 26. “Dock of the Bay” marked a transition in Otis’ career that was highlighted by his masterful expression of soul, coupled with the gentle despair of the blues. Throughout his career, Otis Redding maintained an articulate simplicity in his songwriting, filling the space with just as many words as emotions, once saying:
“There is beauty in simplicity whether you are talking about architecture, art or music.”
At Playing For Change, our appreciation for the work of Otis Redding goes back to the very beginning with Roger Ridley‘s unforgettable performances of “Stand By Me” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” In honor of his influence within our organization, and in light of the impact his legacy has had on connecting the world through music, we partnered with the Otis Redding Foundation and Princess Cruises to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Dock of the Bay” with its very own Song Around The World. Featuring artists Jack Johnson, Corinne Bailey Rae, Aloe Blacc, Otis Redding III, Dexter Redding, Otis Redding Foundation Students, and more; this video takes you from the San Francisco Bay to the streets of Barcelona to the seas of Jamaica and beyond.
“This was such a wonderful way to celebrate 50 years of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,’ and certainly an appropriate and heartwarming way to honor and remember the legacy of my husband.”
-Zelma Redding, President of Otis Redding Foundation
Peace Through Music
With special thanks to all those who participated in the 50th anniversary tribute to Otis Redding‘s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” we are proud to announce that the proceeds from this video will benefit the Otis Redding Foundation and the Playing For Change Foundation. Both organizations support youth empowerment through music education, and further our mutual dream to bring peace through music.
“My name is Roger Ridley and I’m in the joy business, I come out here to be with the people…”
These were the words I heard in my first interview with Roger Ridley before he sat down to perform “Stand By Me” for the small crowd on the Santa Monica promenade back in 2004. Neither one us could have imagined or even dreamed that this particular performance would be the catalyst to so many people seeing the world in a new and brighter way. It was, of course, our first ever attempt at creating a Song Around The World—a song created by us traveling with a mobile studio and cameras to record and film each musician in their natural environment as they each add a new layer to the track. We had no expectations but just a strong will to see if music can unite the world.
10 years later, after witnessing over 100 million people watch “Stand By Me” on YouTube across about 195 countries, I reflect on this performance with Roger and 25 other musicians performing together around the world. A great song, soul, and talent have proven to be one of the great unifiers in this divided world and I believe this is something Roger Ridley knew every day of his life. He didn’t just come out on the streets to be with the people; he came out there to connect them in a deeper way, with a song, as his heroes had done before him.
I also reflect on Roger’s soul brother, Grandpa Elliott, who was the second singer on “Stand By Me” around the world. I remember him as this beautiful character with a red shirt, blue overalls, and the Santa Claus beard. When I met him he had been performing on the streets of New Orleans for over 50 years!! Roger and Grandpa share a powerful musical quality in the conviction of what they do. The audience doesn’t just hear the song; they feel it in their soul.
The journey creating “Stand By Me” was full of searching for soul around the world and we found it everywhere we went. A friend introduced me through email to Bhakani Memela in Umlazi, South Africa who was the musical director for a vocal group named Sinamuva. I had first heard this type of singing with their local legends, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
When the crew and I arrived in the township to work with Sinamuva we heard these amazing voices coming from a small shack in the dark behind Bhakani’s house. They were singing the choruses of “Stand By Me” in their native Zulu Language and it blew us all away!! The group was about 10 singers in total and their voices merged into a sound so full of love and power that I knew at that moment we were discovering something special with this attempt at a Song Around The World.
The final singer on “Stand By Me” is the great Clarence Bekker from the Netherlands. We met him in Barcelona after asking around the city for the best soul singer in town. He agreed to perform on the Song Around The World and added his powerful voice for the second verse,
“If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall,
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me.”
It’s amazing to look back at his performance and realize he is singing as if the sky is tumbling and the mountains are crumbling and somehow some way we are going to make it as a human race. We will stand by each other no matter what!! That’s what I feel when I hear him sing and I imagine many others around the world feel the same way. No matter how many things in life divide us they will never be as strong as the power of music to bring us back together. This is one of the lessons I learned traveling the world recording and filming “Stand By Me.”
The one group we are all a part of is humanity and the music will always be there to re-connect our hearts and our souls. Everyone out there, this is YOUR SONG, it was made just for you. Thanks for sharing in this journey with Playing For Change and thanks to all the musicians who made it possible!