August 11, 2008

Isaac Hayes, “Soul Man” In Memoriam

Isaac Hayes symbolized pride in the consummate sense. A self-respecting man with a commanding presence, his distinctive baritone endeared him to connoisseurs of sophisticated soul while his achievements and influence made him a cultural icon. Dead at age 65, Isaac Hayes leaves behind a legacy of monumental significance.

As an integral contributor to Stax Records, Hayes earned his stripes in the mid-sixties as a session musician for artists like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. He soon teamed with lyricist David Porter to write and produce hits for the likes of Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and Mable John. The partnership found its greatest success, though, with Sam and Dave, who turned songs like “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,” and “Soul Man” into anthems that resonated beyond the radio and into the mores of the Civil Rights era.

He set course on his own career in 1967 and broke artistic ground in 1969 with
Hot Buttered Soul, on which he introduced sprawling, monologue-laden rhapsodies that challenged listeners as much as it seduced them. Subsequent albums like Black Moses and Joy would further distinguish his talents. Yet it was with his “Theme From Shaft” that Hayes would make history, in 1972 becoming the first African American composer to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

In the years since, Hayes turned out such classic slowjams as “Come Live With Me,” “I Stand Accused,” and “Moonlight Lovin’ (Menage a Trois),” as well as the disco joint, “Don’t Let Go.” He also continued composing for other artists, most notably Dionne Warwick (“Déjà Vu,” “We Never Said Goodbye”).

His experience in scoring films led him to pursue acting opportunities (he auditioned for the lead in
Shaft, in fact, but was overlooked in favor of Richard Roundtree), securing roles in films like Escape From New York and Reindeer Games, among dozens of others. However, he landed his most visible role — at least in terms of popularity — when he signed on to provide the voice of "Chef" on South Park.

Isaac Hayes was inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 and into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame (with David Porter) in 2005, both accolades indicative not only of his artistic triumphs, but also of the reverence and stature he’d earned. Integrity, he had a truckload.