Trumpeter Ben Cauley, a member of the Stax Records group the Bar-Kays and the only survivor of the 1967 plane crash that killed most of his bandmates and Stax star Otis Redding, has died in Memphis. He was 67.
Cauley’s eldest daughter, Chekita Cauley-Campbell, said her father died late Monday at Methodist South Hospital. His death was first reported by The Commercial Appeal.
While he has long been known as the sole survivor of the crash that killed Redding, Cauley was a survivor in many other ways.
He had struggled with health issues for years, including a stroke he suffered in 1989, but he persevered through all of it and continued to play his trumpet.
“He was just a real humble, debonair gentleman,” Cauley-Campbell said. “He really loved his music. His music was really his life. He breathed music.”
Cauley was playing with the Bar-Kays while still attending high school at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, his daughter said. When he was a senior he would be picked up at high school on a Friday, travel and play with Otis Redding on the weekends and then come back to school the next week. She said some of the band members needed permission slips from their parents to travel with the band.
On Dec. 10, 1967, they were traveling on Redding’s new twin engine Beechcraft when it went into Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin. Able to hold on to a seat cushion, Cauley was the only survivor. Another band member, bassist James Alexander, was on a different plane.
After the crash, the pair rebuilt the Bar-Kays and backed Isaac Hayes on his landmark album, “Hot Buttered Soul,” according to the Memphis Music Hall of Fame’s website. The Bar-Kays were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Cauley-Campbell said Cauley toured with Hayes, and also played with Aretha Franklin, the Doobie Brothers and many others. He was a well-known session musician, and Cauley-Campbell said she often recognized the sound of his trumpet on records because it was so different from anyone else’s playing.
“No one could play like him,” she said. “It was a very distinct sound. It was a pitch above the roof.”
Besides Cauley-Campbell, Cauley is survived by daughters Shuronda Cauley-Oliver, Miriam Cauley-Crisp, Monica Cauley-Johnson and Kimberly Garrett; and sons Phalon Richmond and Ben Wells. Plans for a memorial service are pending.