Monday, August 11, 2008
Soul singer Isaac Hayes, 65, is dead
Isaac Hayes, whose towering persona and musical brilliance on groundbreaking records like "Shaft" helped shape both the style and sound of his era, died Sunday in Memphis at age 65.
Steve Shular, a spokesman for the Memphis sheriff's office, said Hayes' wife found him unconscious at his home, near a treadmill that was still running. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Hayes suffered a stroke last year that had left him with residual speech impairment. A devout Scientologist, he followed a health regimen that included a 30-day fast every 12 months.
Although Hayes was a singer, composer, musician, arranger and radio host, he was best known for his 1970s concert-stage role as "Black Moses," a hugely powerful man with a glistening bald head rising in massive chains he seemed capable of snapping like twigs.
He reached the peak of his popularity in the early 1970s after winning an Academy Award and a Grammy for his score to Gordon Parks' movie "Shaft."
"People don't appreciate what an achievement that was," said friend and fellow artist James Mtume on Sunday. "It wasn't just a breakthrough for a black musician. It broke composing for all films into the modern era."
"He was more than an artist, he was a trailblazer," said the Rev. Al Sharpton. "He was an innovator, a creative genius."
Bobby Jay, the former WCBS-FM host who met Hayes at WDIA in Memphis in 1970, noted that Hayes was a central creative force for Memphis' legendary Stax label, where he and David Porter wrote songs like Sam and Dave's "Soul Man."
Hayes remained active in the music business throughout his life. From 1996 to 2001, he was a high-rated morning host at WRKS (98.7 FM) in New York.
"He was a good brother," said Bob Slade, his newsman at WRKS. "Just a real good guy."
In more recent years, he was the deep voice of the dashing Chef on the TV series "South Park." He left after the show mocked Scientology.
Mtume said Hayes "opened up music," helping clear the path to Barry White and rap. Jay recalled how Hayes' 1969 "Hot Buttered Soul" was "one of the first concept albums."
Hayes said in 1996 that while he was ambivalent for a time about the "Black Moses" image, he came to see that it represented "a black man rising in chains, as we were for so many years, and breaking free."
Born in a tin shack in Covington, Tenn., Hayes was raised by his grandparents. His family moved to Memphis in 1948, and he decided to go into the music business after winning a ninth-grade talent contest with Nat King Cole's "Looking Back."
Largely self-taught, he worked his way up to Stax in 1964. His honors over the years included induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.
"Where are you going to find someone to replace Isaac Hayes, as a musician, writer, composer?" asked Jay. "Someday, someone will, but I don't know if it will be in our lifetimes."
Survivors include his wife, Adjowa, and their 2-year-old son Nana. He had three older sons.