The Legendary Isaac Hayes’ Legacy

The music world is no doubt saddened by the news that multi-talented, multi-award winning musician, Isaac Hayes, died on Sunday 10 August, with initial reports indicating that a simultaneous stroke and heart attack was the cause of death. With a successful career that spanned more than forty years, Hayes is readily recognized all over the world as the creative genius behind the song “Shaft” from the 1971 movie of the same name. The song earned Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song, as well as two Grammys, and is considered by many to be the song that launched him into the international spotlight.

Isaac Hayes was born in Covington, Tennessee, on 20 August 1942, where as a child in a poor family he earned money as a cotton picker. He showed an interest in music at an early age, singing at his local church when he was five years old and teaching himself to play the electronic organ, piano, flute and saxophone. His early music career started off at the Memphis-based recording studio, Stax Records, where he was a session musician for various acts.

After co-writing a number of successful songs for other artists, Hayes released his debut album, “Presenting Isaac Hayes”, which was not commercially successful. His second album, “Hot Buttered Soul”, released in 1969 had more success and served to promote his image of shaved head, plenty of chunky gold jewelry and sun glasses, as well as his distinctive sound, incorporating deep bass vocals and extended instrumental music. He followed that up with “Black Moses” in 1971. He played a cameo role in the movie “Shaft”, and the title song became a worldwide hit single, spending two weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

Hayes’ career as singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, composer, arranger and actor continued to gain momentum. He appeared in a number of movies and television series, including Miami Vice, The A Team, The Rockford Files, It Could Happen To You, Escape from New York and Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and had a host of hit songs. In recognition of the impact he had made on the music world, he was inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Fall of Fame in 2002. In the same year, “Only the Strong Survive”, a documentary, was released which focused on his career and the influence he had on Memphis artists during and after the sixties.

Hayes reached a whole new generation of fans when he became the voice of Chef in South Park, with his song Chocolate Salty Balls featuring in the series and becoming a huge international hit in 1999. In 2006 he ended his association with the show allegedly after it made fun of his chosen religion, the Church of Scientology.

Known as a tireless champion of human rights, Hayes established the Isaac Hayes Foundation in 1999, which partners with other organizations, such as the World Literacy Crusade and the Shepherd Foundation, to serve the needs of disadvantaged communities. Isaac Hayes leaves behind 12 children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and will be remembered for the many facets that made the man a living legend.