Renowned songwriter and producer Clyde Otis, a member of the BMI Foundation Artistic Advisory Panel, was pronounced dead at Englewood Hospital on January 8. He was 83 years old.
Best-known for his long and enormously successful collaboration with singer Brook Benton, Clyde Otis was among the most prolific songwriters and producers of the post-war era, making music business history as the first African American a&r executive for a major label.
Born in Prentice, Mississippi, Otis’s early exposure to music was limited — his family didn’t even own a radio — and he only began composing songs after meeting “Route 66” writer Bobby Troup during a stint in the Marines. Following his discharge, Otis settled in New York City, spending the next eight years enduring a series of day jobs while honing his songwriting at night. He was driving a cab when, in 1954, he overheard one of his fares discussing a party being thrown by music publisher Sidney Kornhauser; Otis convinced the woman to give Kornhauser his song “That’s All There Is to That,” which became a Top 20 pop hit for Nat “King” Cole in mid-1956.
Upon joining Mercury’s a&r staff in 1958, Otis began writing and producing material for Brook Benton; beginning with the number three smash “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” they teamed for a series of 17 consecutive hits, including “Endlessly,” “So Many Ways,” “Kiddio,” and the novelty favorite “The Boll Weevil Song.” Otis also produced a number of duets between Benton and Dinah Washington, among them “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)”; he worked on Washington’s solo efforts, as well, most notably the classic “What a Difference a Day Makes.” Otis also helmed hits for Sarah Vaughn (“Broken-Hearted Melody”), Timi Yuro (the remarkable “Hurt”) and the Diamonds (“The Stroll”), and in 1962 he alone produced an astounding 33 of Mercury’s 51 chart hits.
Upon leaving the label, he briefly tenured at Liberty Records before founding his own publishing firm, the Clyde Otis Music Group, and moving into independent production. Upon relocating to Nashville, Otis produced sessions for country stars Charlie Rich and Sonny James; Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, and Patti Page all recorded his songs as well.
Over four decades ago, Otis went to visit good friend Sarah Vaughn, who lived in Englewood, NJ and knew that was the place he wanted to raise his family and continue growing the Clyde Otis Music Group. He was the first African-American to “build” a home in the prestigious East Hill section of Englewood, located across the street from his buddy, Dizzy Gillespie.
Otis is survived by his wife, Lourdes, three children; Clyde III, AnaIza and Isidro, five grandchildren and a host of nieces and nephews.
A private service will be held on January 14 in Englewood New Jersey. The family is planning a large musical memorial service to take place in February. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the BMI Foundation. For more information call (212) 586-2000.