Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American soul and funk singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, arranger, composer, and actor. Hayes was one of the main creative forces behind southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served as both an in-house songwriter and producer with partner David Porter during the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s, Hayes became a recording artist, and recorded successful soul albums such as Hot Buttered Soul (1969) and Black Moses (1971) as the Stax label's premier artist.
Alongside his work in popular music, Hayes was a film score composer for motion pictures. His best known work, for the 1971 blaxploitation film Shaft, earned Hayes an Academy Award for Best Original Song (the first Academy Award received by an African-American in a non-acting category) and two Grammy Awards. He received a third Grammy for the album Black Moses.
Learn more about Isaac Hayes at IsaacHayes.com.
In 1992, in recognition of his humanitarian work, he was crowned an honorary king of Ghana's Ada district. Hayes also acted in motion pictures and television; from 1997 to 2006, he provided the voice for the character "Chef" on the Comedy Central animated TV series South Park.
Hayes was born in Covington, Tennessee, the second-born child of Isaac Sr. and Eula Hayes, but after their deaths was raised by his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Willie Wade, Sr. The child of a poor family, he grew up picking cotton in Covington. He dropped out of high school, only to be encouraged later by his former high school teachers at Manassas High to get his diploma, which he earned at the age of 21. He began singing at the age of five at his local church, and, soon after, he taught himself to play the piano, electronic organ, flute and saxophone.
Stax Records and Shaft
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 and Dave. Hayes, Porter and Stax studio band Booker T. & the MGs served as the main production team for much of the label's output during the early and mid-1960s. 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 of 1967. Stax lost all of its back catalog to Atlantic Records in May of 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' image (shaved head, gold jewelry, sun glasses, etc) and his distinct sound (extended orchestral songs, heavy on organs, horns, and guitars, deep bass vocals, etc). Also on the album, Hayes re-interprets "Walk On By" (which had been made famous by Dionne Warwick) into a twelve-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 an 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 latter spawned the classic, "The Look Of Love," another Bacharach song transformed into an eleven-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 remainder 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 "Soulville" and the nineteen-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 TV 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' 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 eerie beat of the fifteen-minute title track. He moved away from cover songs in 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 being 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 Brazilian radio show Jornal de Esportes at Jovem Pan station.
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' 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' 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 future royalties earned from the music he'd written, performed, and produced.
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' 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.
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 featured in the films Shaft (1971) and Truck Turner (1974); he also had a recurring role in the TV series The Rockford Files as ex-con strongman Gandolph Fitch, including one episode alongside duet-partner Dionne Warwick. In the 1980s and 90s, he appeared in numerous films, notably Escape from New York (1981), I'm Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), Prime Target (1991), Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), and Johnny Mnemonic (1995), 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.
Return to form
Hayes launched a high-selling and successful comeback on the Virgin label in 1995. Branded was considered a return to form, and received positive reviews throughout the music press. A companion album Raw and Refined was released around the same time and featured a collection of previously unheard instrumentals, both old and new.
Hayes would become even more in the public consciousness with his long-running role as overweight loverman "Chef" in the controversial hit TV series South Park and in the feature length film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
Hayes was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. 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.
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' 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 the team the Baltimore Hustlers and then the Baltimore Claws before the club finally folded during preseason play for the 1975-1976 season.
Hayes joined Scientology around 1995. He contributed endorsement blurbs for many Scientology books. The frontispiece page for Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought (1997 paperback edition) quotes Hayes as saying "If you really want to know about the mind, the spirit and life itself, read Scientology: The Fundamentals of Thought. It will put you on the right path!"
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 of Freedom Magazine, the Church of Scientology's investigative news journal, at the National Press Club in Washington DC, to honor eleven human rights activists.
Hayes and Doug E. Fresh, another Scientologist musician, recorded an album in 2001 called The Joy Of Creating - The Golden Era Musicians And Friends Play L. Ron Hubbard. The album incorporates Scientology themes in the lyrics, such as "Let me tell you something. Wax enthusiastic and you'll feel so. A being causes his own feelings. It's the Joy Of Creating. Uh!".
Stroke and death
On March 20, 2006, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported that Hayes had suffered a stroke in January. Hayes spokeswoman Amy Harnell denied that Hayes had a stroke, but on October 26, 2006 Hayes himself confirmed that he did.
Hayes was found unconscious in his home located just east of Memphis, Tennessee on August 10, 2008 as reported by the Shelby County Sheriff's Department. A Shelby County Sheriff's deputy responded to Hayes's home after his wife found him on the floor near a still-running treadmill. Hayes was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08pm, at the age of 65. The cause of death was not immediately known, though authorities subsequently listed stroke as the cause of death. At the time of his death, he was preparing his first new studio album since 1995.
South Park's "Chef"
During the late-1990s, Hayes became popular as the voice of Chef on the Comedy Central series South Park. Chef was a soul-singing cafeteria worker at the South Park kids' school. A song from the series performed by Chef, "Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You)", received some 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 and exposé 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 (in a noticeably calm, casual manner), "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. Hayes 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 sh*t, 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."
Departure from South Park
On March 13, 2006, a statement was issued in Hayes' 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 a press statement. The statement, however, did not directly mention Scientology. A response from 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 per his request.
On March 20, 2006, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported having been told that the March 13th statement was made in Hayes' 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." In 2007, the New York Post reported that Hayes felt Stone and Parker "didn’t pay me enough" and "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 stated, "be mad at that fruity little club for scrambling his brains."
After South Park
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 questions - possibly as a result of health or related 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' 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 will appear as himself in a supporting role. Soul Men also stars Bernie Mac, who coincidentally would die the day before Hayes in August 2008. The film is scheduled for release in November 2008.
The Isaac Hayes Foundation was founded in 1999 by Isaac Hayes.
In February 2006, Hayes appeared in a Youth for Human Rights International music video called "United". YHRI is a human rights group founded by a Scientologist.
Hayes was also involved in other human rights related groups such as the One Campaign.
Hayes fathered 12 children, and has 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His fourth wife, Adjowa, gave birth to a son named Nana Kwadjo Hayes on April 10, 2006. One son is his namesake, Isaac Hayes III.