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Perhaps no other songwriter and musician summed up soul, R&B and funk than Isaac Hayes. Once dubbed "Black Moses," Hayes emerged from being a sideman and songwriter for Stax Records to become the embodiment of early 1970s soul music. After introducing himself with the jazz-influenced Presenting Isaac Hayes, Hayes became a top-selling artist with Hot Buttered Soul and an Academy Award winner for his theme song to the revered blaxploitation flick, "Shaft" (1971). But once he reached the mid-1970s, Hayes' success on the charts began to wan, eventually forcing him into bankruptcy. Though he tried several times to churn out another top album - even to the point of embracing disco - Hayes never again saw one of his albums crack the Top 20. He did, however, find a vibrant second career in films and on television, appearing in small roles in "Escape from New York" (1981), "Dead Aim" (1987) and "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1988). Hayes attracted a new generation of fans by voicing Chef on the popular animated comedy, "South Park" (Comedy Central, 1997- ), though he was forced to leave in 2006 after creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampooned Scientology, his chosen religion since 1995. But in the end, Hayes...
Perhaps no other songwriter and musician summed up soul, R&B and funk than Isaac Hayes. Once dubbed "Black Moses," Hayes emerged from being a sideman and songwriter for Stax Records to become the embodiment of early 1970s soul music. After introducing himself with the jazz-influenced Presenting Isaac Hayes, Hayes became a top-selling artist with Hot Buttered Soul and an Academy Award winner for his theme song to the revered blaxploitation flick, "Shaft" (1971). But once he reached the mid-1970s, Hayes' success on the charts began to wan, eventually forcing him into bankruptcy. Though he tried several times to churn out another top album - even to the point of embracing disco - Hayes never again saw one of his albums crack the Top 20. He did, however, find a vibrant second career in films and on television, appearing in small roles in "Escape from New York" (1981), "Dead Aim" (1987) and "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1988). Hayes attracted a new generation of fans by voicing Chef on the popular animated comedy, "South Park" (Comedy Central, 1997- ), though he was forced to leave in 2006 after creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone lampooned Scientology, his chosen religion since 1995. But in the end, Hayes was largely remembered for his lush, funk soul music, which gained the admiration of later musicians from all genres, from rock-n-roll to rap to R&B.
Born Aug. 20, 1942 in Convington, TN, Hayes was raised by his sharecropper grandparents from the time he was 18 months old after his mother, Eula, died and his father, Isaac, Sr., left the family. Hayes grew up in bitter poverty, forcing the young lad to alternate between going to school and working the cotton fields alongside his grandparents and older sister. But Hayes had dreams - mainly of being able to sleep in a warm bed and wear decent clothes. When he was five, Hayes began singing at a local church and soon after began teaching himself music. By the time he reached high school, Hayes was becoming well versed in piano, organ and saxophone; enough to win a school contest with his take on his idol Nat King Cole's "Looking Back." Up to that point, Hayes wanted to become a doctor, but his contest win prompted him to become more serious about music. Meanwhile, he began sitting in with several Memphis-based bands like Sir Isaac & the Do-Dads, The Morning Stars and the Teen Tones, which quickly helped him gain local popularity as a musician and songwriter.
But his poverty forced Hayes to make tough decisions early in life. He briefly left school during the ninth grade to earn money to replace his worn-out clothes. His teachers, however, convinced him to return, only to see him leave again a few years later to earn a living at a meat packing plant after he married and became an expectant father. Meanwhile, Hayes started working as a session man for Stax Records, Memphis' answer to Motown. In short order, Hayes began churning out song after song with partner David Porter, many of which became hits, including "You Don't Know Like I Know" in 1965 and "Soul Man" in 1967. As a side musician, Hayes scored his biggest success arranging and playing organ on Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness" (1966). Despite being a favored musician and songwriter, Stax head honcho Al Bell never considered Hayes for his own album. Then one night on a drunken whim, Bell rolled tape on Hayes and two other musicians, recording the impromptu session that was quickly released as Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968), a cool mixture of jazz and soul that failed to sell many copies, but nonetheless trumpeted what was to come. With his patented shaved head, Elvis-style sunglasses and long gold chains, Hayes laid down the beginnings of what later became his iconic image.
Because his first album sold poorly, Hayes was prepared to return to his behind-the-scenes duties as sideman and songwriter. But Stax had lost its back catalog to Atlantic Records, prompting Bell to record an entire new back catalog. With 27 albums slots to fill, Bell ordered every act under contract and a few prominent staff members - including Hayes - to make records. With a devil-may-care attitude on whether or not he would succeed, Hayes recorded Hot Buttered Soul, a groundbreaking record that became a monument in soul music. Dispensing with the standard three minute song, the album contained only four tracks, ranging from five- to eighteen-minutes long. It made stunning use of both horns and strings, particularly on his infamous cover of Jimmy Webb's "By The Time I Get to Ph nix," a soft-spoken ballad that slowly eased listeners to a rousing, orchestral climax. After releasing two more top-selling albums, To Be Continued (1970) and The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970), Hayes entered the mainstream with his iconic soundtrack to the blaxploitation film, "Shaft" (1971), which included his Academy Award-winning song, "Theme From Shaft." A vibrant mix of wah-wah funk and sweeping orchestral strings, "Shaft" started with Hayes famously asking, "Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks?" The song spent two weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in the No. 1 spot and became Hayes' widely recognized hit.
Also in 1971, Hayes released perhaps his best-known album, Black Moses, a double disc set that solidified the artist as a master of stretched-out funk jams and husky rap vocals predating the rise of hip-hop. Another chart topper, Black Moses was looked back upon as being the apex of Hayes' recording career. In 1974, Hayes made his onscreen debut with a pair of blaxploitation films, playing a small part in "Truck Turner" before co-starring as an ex-Chicago cop who teams up with a Catholic priest (Lino Ventura) to capture a bank robber in "Three Tough Guys." Of course, Hayes provided the soundtracks for both films, though neither proved as memorable as "Shaft." Also that year, Stax Records was in serious financial trouble, which trickled down to Hayes. The artist's fiscal problems stemmed from his inability to repay loans facilitated by Stax, which was complicated when Hayes tried to sue the label for $5.3 million, only to learn that they were unable to pay. Hayes broke away and formed his own label, Hot Buttered Soul, which released albums through ABC Records. Hayes also took part ownership of the Memphis Trams, a financially floundering team from the American Basketball Association. Despite the team's rise in profile, it remained financially insolvent, forcing Hayes to divest himself from the venture.
After the disco-esque Chocolate Chip (1975), one of his last Top 20 albums, Hayes sank into musical mediocrity for many years, which was made worse in 1976 when he filed for bankruptcy, losing his home and the rights to all future royalties for his music. Undoubtedly at the nadir of his career, Hayes nonetheless continued recording records throughout the rest of the 1970s, churning out competent, but ultimately poor-selling material like Disco Connection (1976), Juicy Fruit (1977) and Don't Let Go (1979). But by the time he rolled into the 1980s, Hayes barely registered on the Top Black Albums charts - let alone the Top Pop Albums. He did, however, began to expand his scope and revive himself from his previous financial malaise, appearing in more films and television projects. After several small roles in forgotten fare, Hayes made an impression as the Duke of New York in John Carpenter's futuristic thriller "Escape from New York" (1981). The singer-turned-actor began to crack through on television as well, appearing in the made-for-television movie, "Betrayed by Innocence" (CBS, 1986), which he followed with co-starring roles in the low budget crime flicks "Nightstick" (1987) and "Dead Aim" (1987). He was then tapped by the Wayans Brothers for their feature debut, "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1988), an uproariously funny spoof of 1970s blaxploitation films.
After attempting a musical comeback with U-Turn (1986) and Love Attack (1988), Hayes put aside recording music to focus on his acting career. As the 1990s came around, Hayes made frequent co-starring appearances in films and on television, including "Prime Target" (1991) and "Guilty as Charged" (1992). Following a comical turns as Asneeze in Mel Brooks' "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" (1993), Hayes began doing series television work, appearing in episodes of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96) and "Sliders" (Fox / Sci Fi Channel, 1994-2000). In 1997, Hayes began a long-running stint on "South Park" (Comedy Channel, 1997- ), the animated satirical comedy by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Hayes voiced Chef, a lovable, level-headed, soul-singing school cafeteria cook and UFO fanatic who dispensed advice to Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny through music that often turned into songs about having sex. Throughout his 10 seasons on the show, Hayes was an active participant in Parker and Stone's many jabs at religion, politics, censorship, racism and homosexuality. But after "Trapped in the Closet," an episode that lampooned Scientology - a religion he joined in 1995 - Hayes suddenly left the show in March 2006, even though the episode had originally aired in November 2005. Hayes released a statement, which said in part, "There is a place in this world for satire, but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins."
Hayes' departure from the show was a shock to both fans and the show's creators, especially after he seemed to tolerate the episode when asked about it on the radio around the time of its first airing on Comedy Central. But Parker and Stone had the final say, however, airing Chef's final episode in March 2006, which was a thinly-guised take on their assertion that Hayes had been brainwashed by Scientology. Meanwhile, Hayes again attempted a musical comeback - around the same time he joined Scientology - releasing Branded (1995) and Raw and Refined (1995), both of which were musically accomplished, but failed to sell. The two albums proved to be the last containing freshly written music he released in his lifetime. Back on the screen, he continued to appear in features during his "South Park" run, appearing in "Blues Brothers 2000" (1998), "Reindeer Games" (2000) and "Hustle & Flow" (2005).
Hayes also voiced a character on "Sealab 2021" (Cartoon Network, 2001-05), while appearing as himself on "The Bernie Mac Show" (Fox, 2002-06) and "That '70s Show" (Fox, 1998-2006), and landing a recurring role as Tolok on "Stargate SG-1" (Showtime / Sci Fi Channel, 1997-2007). In October 2006, Hayes confirmed reports from earlier in the year that he had suffered from a stroke in January. Then on Aug. 10, 2008, Hayes was found on the floor by his fourth wife, Adjowa, next to his treadmill in his home near Memphis. He was brought to Baptist Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. It was later revealed that the family physician, Dr. David Kraus, listed the cause of death as a stroke. Hayes was 65, and in the midst of preparing his first studio album since 1995. He was also set to appear in the comedy "Soul Men" (2008), which starred comedian Bernie Mac, who died from complications due to pneumonia only the day before Hayes passed away.
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