Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American soul singer, songwriter, actor, producer, and voice artist. Hayes was one of the creative forces behind the southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served both as an in-house songwriter and as a session musician and record producer, teaming with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s. Hayes and Porter, along with Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of notable songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. Hayes is also a 2002 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The hit song “Soul Man”, written by Hayes and Porter and first performed by Sam & Dave, has been recognized as one of the most influential songs of the past 50 years by the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by Rolling Stone< /i> magazine, and by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the Songs of the Century. During the late 1960s, Hayes also began a career as a recording artist. He had several successful soul albums such as Hot Buttered Soul (1969) and Black Moses (1971). In addition to his work in popular music, he worked as a composer of musical scores for motion pictures.
He was well known for his musical score for the film Shaft (1971). For the “Theme fromShaft”, he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1972. He became the third African-American, after Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel, to win an Academy Award in any competitive field covered by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also won two Grammy Awards for that same year. Later, he was given his third Grammy for his music album Black Moses.
In recognition of his humanitarian work there Hayes wa s crowned honorary king of the Ada, Ghana region in 1992. He acted in motion pictures and television, such as in the movies Truck Turner and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and as Gandolf “Gandy” Fitch in the TV series The Rockford Files (1974–1980). From 1997 to 2006, he voiced the character Chef on the animated TV series South Park. His influences were Percy Mayfield, Big Joe Turner, James Brown, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and psychedelic soul groups like The Chambers Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone.
On August 5, 2003, Hayes was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Urban Awards for his enduring influence on generations of music makers. Throughout his songwriting career, Hayes received five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards and six Million-Air citations. As of 2008, his songs generated more than 12 million performances. He also voice d the character of Chef in South Park for 10 seasons.
Isaac Hayes, Jr. was born in Covington, Tennessee, in Tipton County. He was the second child of Eula (née Wade) and Isaac Hayes, Sr.
After his mother died young and his father abandoned his family, Isaac, Jr., was raised by his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Wade, Sr. The child of a sharecropper family, he grew up working on farms in Shelby County, Tennessee, and in Tipton County. At age five Hayes began singing at his local church; he taught himself to play the piano, the Hammond organ, the flute, and the saxophone.
Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he did at age 21. After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities. He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-pack ing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi.
Hayes’s first professional gigs, in the late 1950s, were as a singer at Curry’s Club in North Memphis, backed by Ben Branch’s houseband.
Stax Records and
Hayes began his recording career in the early 1960s, as a session player for various acts of the Memphis-based Stax Records. He later wrote a string of hit songs with songwriting partner David Porter, including “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Soul Man”, “When Something Is Wrong with My Baby” and “Hold On, I’m Comin’” for Sam & Dave. Hayes, Porter and Stax studio band Booker T. & the M.G.’s were also the producers for Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and other Stax artists during the mid-1960s. Hayes-Porter contributed to the Stax sound made famous durin g this period, and Sam & Dave credited Hayes for helping develop both their sound and style. In 1968, Hayes released his debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, a jazzy, largely improvised effort that was commercially unsuccessful.
His next album was Hot Buttered Soul, which was released in 1969 after Stax had gone through a major upheaval. The label had lost its largest star, Otis Redding, in a plane crash in December 1967. Stax lost all of its back catalog to Atlantic Records in May 1968. As a result, Stax executive vice president Al Bell called for 27 new albums to be completed in mid-1969; Hot Buttered Soul, was the most successful of these releases. This album is noted for Hayes’s image (shaved head, gold jewelry, sunglasses, etc.) and his distinct sound (extended orchestral songs relying heavily on organs, horns and guitars, deep bass vocals, etc.). Also on the album, Hayes reinterpreted “Walk On By” (which had been ma de famous by Dionne Warwick) into a 12-minute exploration. “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” starts with an eight-minute-long monologue before breaking into song, and the lone original number, the funky “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” runs nearly ten minutes, a significant break from the standard three-minute soul/pop songs.
“Walk On By” would be the first of many times Hayes would take a Burt Bacharach standard, generally made famous as three-minute pop songs by Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield, and transform it into a soulful, lengthy and almost gospel number.
In 1970, Hayes released two albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued. The former stuck to the four-song template of his previous album. Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused” begins with a trademark spoken word monologue, and Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” is re-worked. The l atter spawned the classic “The Look of Love”, another Bacharach song transformed into an 11-minute epic of lush orchestral rhythm (mid-way it breaks into a rhythm guitar jam for a couple of minutes before suddenly resuming the slow love song). An edited three-minute version was issued as a single. The album also featured the instrumental “Ike’s Mood,” which segued into his own version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Hayes released a Christmas single, “The Mistletoe and Me” (with “Winter Snow” as a B-side).
In early 1971, Hayes composed music for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Shaft. (in the movie, he also appeared in a cameo role as the bartender of No Name Bar). The title theme, with its wah-wah guitar and multi-layered symphonic arrangement, would become a worldwide hit single, and spent two weeks at number one in the Billboard Hot 100 in November. The remainde r of the album was mostly instrumentals covering big beat jazz, bluesy funk, and hard Stax-styled soul. The other two vocal songs, the social commentary “Soulsville” and the 19-minute jam “Do Your Thing,” would be edited down to hit singles. Hayes won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the “Theme from Shaft”, and was nominated for Best Original Dramatic Score for the film’s score.
Later in the year, Hayes released a double album, Black Moses, that expanded on his earlier sounds and featured The Jackson 5’s song “Never Can Say Goodbye”. Another single, “I Can’t Help It”, was not featured on the album.
In 1972, Hayes would record the theme tune for the television series The Men and enjoy a hit single (with “Type Thang” as a B-side). He released several other non-album singles during the year, such as “Feel Like Making Love”, “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to Be Right)” and “Rolling Down a Mountainside”. Atlantic would re-release Hayes’s debut album this year with the new title In The Beginning.
Hayes was back in 1973 with an acclaimed live double album, Live At Sahara Tahoe, and followed it up with the album Joy, with the eerie beat of the 15-minute title track. He moved away from cover songs with this album. An edited “Joy” would be a hit single.
In 1974, Hayes was featured in the blaxploitation films Three Tough Guys and Truck Turner, and he recorded soundtracks for both.Tough Guys was almost devoid of vocals and Truck Turner yielded a single with the title theme. The soundtrack score was eventually used by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino in the Kill Bill film series and has been used for over 30 years as the opening score of Brazil ian radio show Jornal de Esportes on the Jovem Pan station.
Unlike most African-American musicians of the period, Hayes did not sport an Afro and instead chose to shave his head bald.
HBS (Hot Buttered Soul Records) and bankruptcy
By 1974, Stax Records was having serious financial problems, stemming from problems with overextension and limited record sales and distribution. Hayes himself was deep in debt to Union Planters Bank, which administered loans for the Stax label and many of its other key employees. In September of that year, Hayes sued Stax for $5.3 million. As Stax was in deep debt and could not pay, the label made an arrangement with Hayes and Union Planters: Stax released Hayes from his recording and production contracts, and Union Planters would collect all of Hayes’s income and apply it towards his debts. Hayes formed his own label, Hot Buttered Soul, which released its product through ABC Records.
His new album, 1975's  ;Chocolate Chip saw Hayes embrace the disco sound with the title track and lead single. “I Can’t Turn Around” would prove a popular song as time went on. This would be Hayes’s last album to chart top 40 for many years. Later in the year, the all instrumental Disco Connection album fully embraced disco.
In 1976, the album cover of Juicy Fruit featured Hayes in a pool with naked women, and spawned the title track single and the classic “Storm Is Over”. Later the same year the Groove-A-Thon album featured the singles “Rock Me Easy Baby” and the title track. However, while all these albums were regarded as solid efforts, Hayes was no longer selling large numbers. He and his wife were forced into bankruptcy in 1976, as they owed over $6 million. By the end of the bankruptcy proceedings in 1977, Hayes had lost his home, much of his personal property, and the rights to all fut ure royalties earned from the music he had written, performed, and produced.
Basketball team ownership
On July 17, 1974, Hayes, along with Mike Storen, Avron Fogelman and Kemmons Wilson took over ownership of the American Basketball Association team the Memphis Tams. The prior owner was Charles O. Finley, the owner of the Oakland A’s baseball team. Hayes’s group renamed the team the Memphis Sounds. Despite a 66% increase in home attendance, hiring well regarded coach Joe Mullaney and, unlike in the prior three seasons, making the 1975 ABA Playoffs (losing to the eventual champion Kentucky Colonels in the Eastern Division semifinals), the team’s financial problems continued. The group was given a deadline of June 1, 1975, to sell 4,000 season tickets, obtain new investors and arrange a more favorable lease for the team at the Mid-South Coliseum. The group did not come through and the ABA took over the team, selling it to a group in Maryland that renamed th e team the Baltimore Hustlers and then the Baltimore Claws before the club finally folded during preseason play for the 1975-1976 season.
Polydor and hiatus, film work, and the Duke of New York
In 1977, Hayes was back with a new deal with Polydor Records, a live album of duets with Dionne Warwick did moderately well, and his comeback studio album New Horizon sold better and enjoyed a hit single “Out The Ghetto”, and also featured the popular “It’s Heaven To Me”.
1978's For the Sake of Love saw Hayes record a sequel to “Theme from Shaft” (“Shaft II”), but was most famous for the single “Zeke The Freak”, a song that would have a shelf life of decades and be a major part of the House movement in the UK. The same year, Fantasy Records, which had bought out Stax Records, released an album of Hayes’s non-album singles and archived recordings as a “new ” album, Hotbed, in 1978.
In 1979, Hayes returned to the Top 40 with Don’t Let Go and its disco-styled title track that became a hit single (U.S. #18), and also featured the classic “A Few More Kisses To Go”. Later in the year he added vocals and worked on Millie Jackson’s album Royal Rappin’s, and a song he co-wrote, “Deja Vu”, became a hit for Dionne Warwick and won her a Grammy for best female R&B vocal.
Neither 1980s And Once Again or 1981's Lifetime Thing produced notable songs or big sales, and Hayes chose to take a break from music to pursue acting.
In the 1970s, Hayes was featured in the films Shaft (1971) and Truck Turner (1974); he also had a recurring role in the TV series The Rockford Files as an old cellmate of Rockford’s, Gandolph Fitch (who always referred to Rockford as “Rockfish” much to his annoyance), including one episode alongside duet-partner Dionne Warwick. In the 1980s and 1990s, he appeared in numerous films, notably Escape from New York (1981), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Prime Target (1991), and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), as well as in episodes of The A-Team and Miami Vice. He also attempted a musical comeback, embracing the style of drum machines and synth for 1986s U-Turn and 1988s Love Attack, though neither proved successful. In 1991 he was featured in a duet with fellow soul singer Barry White on White’s ballad “Dark and Lovely (You Over There)”.
Return to fame and stardom
In 1995, Hayes appeared as a Las Vegas minister impersonating Himself in the comedy series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Hayes launched a comeback on the Virgin label in May 1995 with Branded, an album of new material that earned impressive sales figures as well as positive reviews from critics who proclaimed it a return to form. A companion album released around the same time,Raw and Refined, featured a collection of previously unreleased instrumentals, both old and new.
In a rather unexpected career move shortly thereafter, Hayes charged back into the public consciousness as a founding star of Comedy Central’s controversial — and wildly successful — animated TV series, South Park. Hayes provided the voice for the character of “Chef”, the amorous elementary-school lunchroom cook, from the show’s debut on August 13, 1997 (one week shy of his 55th birthday), through the end of its ninth season in 2006. The role of Chef drew on Hayes’s talents both as an actor and as a singer, thanks to the character’s penchant for making conversational points in the form of crudely suggestive soul songs. An album of songs from the series appeared in 1998 with the title Chef Aid: The South Park Album reflecting Chef’s popularity with the show’s fans, and the Chef song “Chocolate Salty Balls” became a number-one U.K. hit. However, when South Park leaped to the big screen the following year with the smash animated musical South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Hayes/Chef was the only major character who did not perform a showcase song in the film; his lone musical contribution was “Good Love,” a track on the soundtrack album which originally appeared on Black Moses in 1971 and is not heard in the movie
In 2000, he appeared on the soundtrack of the French movie The Magnet on the song “Is It Really Home” written and composed by rapper Akhenaton (IAM) and composer Bruno Coulais.
In 2002, Hayes was inducted into th e Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After he played a set at the Glastonbury Festival, the same year a documentary highlighting Isaac’s career and his impact on many of the Memphis artists in the 1960s onwards was produced, “Only The Strong Survive”.
In 2004, Hayes appeared in a recurring minor role as the Jaffa Tolok on the television series Stargate SG-1. The following year, he appeared in the critically acclaimed independent film Hustle & Flow. He also had a brief recurring role in UPN's Girlfriends as Eugene Childs (father of Toni).
During the late 1990s, Hayes gained new popularity as the voice of Chef on the Comedy Central animated television series South Park. Chef was a soul-singing cafeteria worker for South Park Elementary. A song from the series performed by Chef, “Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)”, received international radio airplay in 1999. It reached number one on the UK singles chart and also on the Irish singles chart. The track also appeared on the album Chef Aid: The South Park Album in 1998.
In the South Park episode “Trapped in the Closet”, a satire of Scientology which aired on November 16, 2005, Hayes did not appear in his role as Chef. While appearing on the Opie and Anthony radio show about a month after the episode aired, Hayes was asked, “What did you think about when Matt and Trey did that episode on Scientology?”, he replied, “One thing about Matt and Trey, they lampoon everybody, and if you take that serious, I’ll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge for two dollars. That’s what they do.”
In an interview for The A.V. Club on January 4, 2006, Hayes was again asked about the episode. He said that he told the creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, “Guys , you have it all wrong. We’re not like that. I know that’s your thing, but get your information correct, because somebody might believe that shit, you know?” He then told them to take a couple of Scientology courses to understand what they do. In the interview, Hayes defended South Park’s style of controversial humor, noting that he was not pleased with the show’s treatment of Scientology, but conceding that he “understands what Matt and Trey are doing.”
On March 13, 2006, a statement was issued in Hayes’s name, indicating that he was asking to be released from his contract with Comedy Central, citing recent episodes which satirized religious beliefs as being intolerant. “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,” he was quoted in the press sta tement. However, the statement did not directly mention Scientology. A response from Matt Stone said that Hayes’ complaints stemmed from the show’s criticism of Scientology and that he “has no problem – and he’s cashed plenty of checks – with our show making fun of Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Jews.” Stone adds, “[We] never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.” Stone and Parker agreed to release Hayes from his contract by his request.
On March 20, 2006, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported having been told that the March 13 statement was made in Hayes’s name, but not by Hayes himself. He wrote: “Isaac Hayes did not quit South Park. My sources say that someone quit it for him. … Friends in Memphis tell me that Hayes did not issue any statements on his own about South Park. They are mystified.” Hayes then had a stroke.
In a 2007 interview, Hayes said he had quit because “they [Parker and Stone] didn’t pay me enough… They weren’t that nice.”
The South Park season 10 premiere (aired March 22, 2006) featured “The Return of Chef”, a thinly veiled telling of the affair from Parker and Stone’s point of view. Using sound clips from past episodes, it depicts Chef as having been brainwashed and urges viewers (via Kyle talking to the town) to “remember Chef as the jolly old guy who always broke into song” and not to blame Chef for his defection, but rather, as Kyle states, “be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains.” In the episode, the cult that brainwashed Chef is named the “Super Adventure Club” and is depicted as a group of child molesters who travel the world to have sex with prepubescent children from exotic places. In the end, Chef is unable to break free from his brainwashing and dies an extremely gruesome death, falling off a cliff, being mutilated by wild animals and shot several times. At the end of the episode he is shown as being resurrected as a cyborg in the style of the resurrection of Darth Vader at the end of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Hayes’ income was sharply reduced as a result of leaving South Park. There followed announcements that he would be touring and performing. A reporter present at a January 2007 show in New York City, who had known Hayes fairly well, reported that “Isaac was plunked down at a keyboard, where he pretended to front his band. He spoke-sang, and his words were halting. He was not the Isaac Hayes of the past.”
In April 2008, while a guest on The Adam Carolla Show, Hayes stumbled in his responses to qu estions—possibly as a result of health issues. A caller questioned whether Hayes was under the influence of a substance, and Carolla and co-host Teresa Strasser asked Hayes if he had ever used marijuana. After some confusion on what was being asked, Hayes replied that he had only ever tried it once. During the interview the radio hosts made light of Hayes’s awkward answers, and replayed Hayes comments as sound drops—often simulating conversation with his co-hosts. Hayes stated during this interview that he was no longer on good terms with Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
During the spring of 2008, Hayes shot scenes for a comedy about soul musicians inspired by the history of Stax Records entitled Soul Men, in which he appears as himself in a supporting role. His voice can be heard in the film in a voice-over role as Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac (who died the day before Hayes), and Sharon Leal’s characters are traveling through Memphis, Tennessee. His first actual appearance in the film is when he is shown in the audience clapping his hands as The Real Deal does a rendition of Hayes’s 1971 hit song “Do Your Thing.” His next appearance consists of him entering The Real Deal’s dressing room to wish them luck on their performance and shaking hands with Louis Hinds (played by Jackson) and Floyd Henderson (played by Mac). During this scene, Hayes also helps Hinds reunite with his long-lost daughter Cleo (played by Leal). His final appearance in the film consists of him introducing The Real Deal to the audience. The film was released on November 7, 2008.
Two months after his death, the South Park episode “The China Probrem” was dedicated to him.
Hayes had 12 children, 14 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Hayes’s first marriage was to Dancy Hayes in 1960, ended in divorce.
Hayes’s second marriage was to Emily Ruth Watson on November 24, 1965. This marriage ended in divorce in 1972. Children from this marriage included Vincent Eric Hayes, Melanie Mia Hayes, and Nicole A. Hayes (McGee).
He married bank teller Mignon Harley on April 18, 1973, and they divorced in 1986; they had two children. Hayes and his wife were eventually forced into bankruptcy, owing over $6 million. Over the years, Isaac Hayes was able to recover financially.
His fourth wife, Adjowa, gave birth to a son named Nana Kwadjo Hayes on April 10, 2006. He also had one son who is his namesake, Isaac Hayes III, known as rap producer Ike Dirty. Hayes’s eldest daughter is named Jackie, also named co-executor of his estate and other children to follow Veronica, Felicia, Melanie, Nikki, Lili, Darius, and Vincent and he also had a daughter named Heather Hayes.
Hayes took his first Scientology course in 1993, later contributing endorsement blurbs for many Scientology books ov er the ensuing years. In 1996, Hayes began hosting The Isaac Hayes and Friends Radio Show on WRKS in New York City. While there, Hayes became a client of young vegan raw food chef Elijah Joy and his company Organic Soul, Inc. Hayes also appears in the Scientology film Orientation.
In 1998, Hayes and fellow Scientologist entertainers Anne Archer, Chick Corea and Haywood Nelson attended the 30th anniversary ofFreedom Magazine, the Church of Scientology’s investigative news journal, at the National Press Club in Washington DC, to honor eleven activists.
In 2001, Hayes and Doug E. Fresh, another Scientologist musician, recorded a Scientology-inspired album called The Joy Of Creating – The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L. Ron Hubbard.
The Isaac Hayes Foundation was founded in 1999 by Hayes.
In February 2006, Hayes appeared in a Youth for Human Rights International music video called “Unit ed”. YHRI is a human rights group founded by the Church of Scientology.
Hayes was also involved in other human rights related groups such as the One Campaign. Isaac Hayes was crowned a chief in Ghana for his humanitarian work and economic efforts on the country’s behalf.
Stroke and death
On March 20, 2006, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported that Hayes had suffered a minor stroke in January. Hayes’s spokeswoman, Amy Harnell, denied this, but on October 26, 2006, Hayes himself confirmed that he had suffered a stroke.
Hayes was found unresponsive in his home located just east of Memphis on August 10, 2008, ten days before his 66th birthday, as reported by the Shelby County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Department. A Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy and an ambulance from Rural Metro responded to his home after three family members found him unresponsive on the floor next to a still-operating treadmill. Hayes was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospi tal in Memphis, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08 p.m. The cause of death was not immediately clear, though the area medical examiners later listed a recurrence of stroke as the cause of death. He was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery.
The Tennessee General Assembly enacted legislation in 2010 to honor Hayes by naming a section of Interstate 40 the “Isaac Hayes Memorial Highway”. The name was applied to the stretch of highway in Shelby County from Sam Cooper Boulevard in Memphis east to the Fayette County line. The naming was made official at a ceremony held on Hayes’s birth anniversary in August 2010.
Awards and nominations
- Presenting Isaac Hayes (1968)
- Hot Buttered Soul (1969)
- The Isaac Hayes Movement (1970)
- …To Be Continued (1970)
- Black Moses (1971)
- Joy (1973)
- Chocolate Ch ip (1975)
- Disco Connection (1975)
- Groove-A-Thon (1976)
- Juicy Fruit (Disco Freak) (1976)
- New Horizon (1977)
- For the Sake of Love (1978)
- Don’t Let Go (1979)
- And Once Again (1980)
- Lifetime Thing (1981)
- U-Turn (1986)
- Love Attack (1988)
- Raw & Refined (1995)
- Branded (1995)