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Soul Music Innovator Isaac Hayes Dead at 65

Isaac Hayes, the iconic, shaven-headed, gold-bedecked singer-songwriter-musician-arranger-actor-media figure whose 1971 solo R&B hit “Theme from Shaft” is often considered a precursor of the funk and disco movements, and who penned hit songs for the Memphis-based Stax and Volt labels, died August 10 in East Memphis, Tenn. He was 65.

The cause was not announced but Hayes was being treated for a number of medical conditions and had suffered a stroke in 2006. His body was discovered next to a treadmill in his home by his wife, Adjowa.

Hayes, who was born in Covington, Tenn., on August 20, 1942, and raised by his grandparents, first came to prominence for co-writing, with David Porter, several soul songs for the duo Sam and Dave, notably “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” “Soul Man” and “I Thank You.” He also co-wrote “B-A-B-Y” for Carla Thomas and other popular soul hits.Previously, multi-instrumentalist Hayes had served as a session musician for Stax, beginning in 1963 as the saxophonist on Floyd Newman’s “Frog Stomp.” His keyboard playing even replaced that of label star Booker T. Jones on some Booker T. and the MG’s recordings.

But it was as a recording artist that Hayes was destined to make his greatest impact. Recording for the Stax-affiliated Enterprise label, he first made the charts in 1969 with his interpretation of the Bacharach-David composition “Walk on By,” and the album Hot Buttered Soul. Shaft followed two years later. Hayes’ score to Gordon Parks’ film-which would later come to represent a sub-genre known as blaxploitation-won Hayes both an Oscar (the first black composer to win the award for best song) and two Grammys. His performance of the number on the 1972 Academy Awards program, on which he was weighed down with gold jewelry, boosted his public profile considerably.

Hayes’ Shaft album went to number one on the Billboard chart, and he followed it later that same year with Black Moses, a career-defining album that also made the top 10. Hayes enjoyed his greatest commercial success during the 1970s, but he remained active in the entertainment business for the rest of his life. In recent years, younger generations have gotten to know him through his New York radio program on WRKS and as the voice of Chef on the TV cartoon series South Park. Hayes left the program when it lampooned Scientology, a belief system to which he subscribed. He also appeared in a number of films, including a remake of Shaft, and is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Soul Men, which also stars comedian Bernie Mac, who died the day before Hayes. Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

Originally Published