“RIP, Otis Clay”

Otis Clay was a global ambassador of soul, gospel and blues my entire life. He was a West Side of Chicago resident my entire life. He started as a gospel singer but then, when I was a kid and Chicago was becoming the leading Mecca for the soul music recording industry, CIay was an important part of the scene. When I discovered his gospel music, I found it just secular enough that I could feel inspired by its message of love. I met Otis Clay several years ago in a forum to discuss how to make the Harold Washington Cultural Center in historic Bronzeville financially viable. (That story could be a book unto itself, believe you me.). I knew there was something spiritually compelling about him. He took commitments seriously. His faith was real. And whether you were walking home from SPACE after his recent Evanston show, catching him at the African Arts Festival, or listening to him talk with Richard Steele on NPR’s Barber Shop show (recorded at a south side barber shop every week — you actually can hear the razors in the background), you left with a bit of the warmth he generated. Warmth that I will seek to hold onto even after his passing yesterday.

“Keep me fit for service,

Keep me up on every hand,

I’ve stood many a trial,

Some day I will understand.

“Teach me how to love my neighbor,

Teach me how to treat my friend,

Fill me with the Holy Spirit,

Keep me humble to the end.

“Tired of this load I’m carryin’,

Tired of this world of sin,

Angels in Heaven beckon,

My weary soul to come in. “

You are so in, Otis…rest in peace.

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