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Obituary: Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes

Obituary by Jack Foley

US SOUL legend Isaac Hayes has died at his home in Memphis, Tennessee, at the age of 65, according to police.

The flamboyant singer, who won an Oscar for the 1971 hit Theme From Shaft, was found unconscious at home by his wife, who subsequently called the police. He was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead at 1408 (1908 GMT) on August 10, 2008.

The cause of death was not immediately apparent but a police spokesman said: “Family members believe at this point it is a medical condition that might have led to his death.”

The spokesman added that Mr Hayes was being treated for “a number of medical issues”. He had previously suffered a stroke in 2006.

Aside from his musical success, Mr Hayes, a deep-voiced performer, had developed a cult following among younger fans for providing the voice of Chef in the hit cartoon show, South Park.

Born in Covington, Tennessee, on August 20, 1942, as the second-born child of Isaac Sr and Eula Hayes, Mr Hayes emerged from the school of hard knocks.

Following the death of his parents, he was raised by his maternal grandparents, Mr and Mrs Willie Wade, and grew up picking cotton in Covington.

In terms of education, he dropped out of high school but was later encouraged by his former teachers at Manassas High to get his diploma, which he earned at the age of 21.

But music was always in his veins, and he began singing at the age of five at his local church and, soon after, taught himself to play the piano, electronic organ, flute and saxophone.

His big break came in nearby Memphis when he signed for the Stax label as a session musician in 1964. Mr Hayes took over keyboards from Booker T Jones and subsequently secured his first paid sessions playing with Otis Redding.

He went on to establish a songwriting partnership with David Porter during the ’60s, pennin hits for Sam and Dave such as Hold On, I’m Coming and Soul Man.

That success, in turn, led to his own recording contract and in 1969 he achieved new levels of acclaim for the groundbreaking album Hot Buttered Soul, described by one critic as “the most important black recording since James Brown’s Live at the Apollo“.

Things got even better two years later, when his theme from the hit film Shaft became a No.1 hit and he won the Academy Award for it, as well as being nominated for another track from the score. The song and score also won him two Grammys.

That same year, Mr Hayes’s next album Black Moses established him as a black leader and he was actively involved in the campaign to promote black civil rights in that politically-charged era.

A tireless performer who always sought to expand his talents, Mr Hayes then turned to acting and landed his first role in 1974 with the film, Truck Turner.

He went on to appear in some 60 movies on the big and small screen, including Escape from New York, The Rockford Files, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, It Could Happen To You and – more recently – the Shaft update starring Samuel L Jackson.

During the ’90s, he also became involved in a lot of charity work and even travelled to the West African state of Ghana to shoot a video with Barry White, during which he helped fund a school to help the spread of literacy.

He was subsequently made a Ghanaian king, with the title Nene Katey Ocansey, and in 2005, married a Ghanaian woman – his fourth marriage. He has 12 children.

In 1993, he became involved with Scientology and within two years had established the Isaac Hayes Foundation aimed at increasing literacy across the globe.

When elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, he put his success down to good chance, saying: “I knew nothing about the business, or trends and things like that. I think it was a matter of timing. I didn’t know what was unfolding.”

Mr Hayes’ life wasn’t always without controversy, though, and in 2006 he angrily quit the popular South Park show after an episode mocked Scientology, issuing a statement which, in part, read: “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.”

In spite of that, he’ll best be remembered as a man who influenced the course of black music and as one of the dominant black artists of the early 1970s.