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, MS, Otis' 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 Vaughan ("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.
- by Jason Ankeny
All Music Group