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Obituary: Isaac Hayes

Isaac Hayes
Isaac Hayes became a Scientologist and philanthropist
US musician Isaac Hayes, who has died aged 65, achieved universal fame with what became his signature song, the theme from the 1971 movie Shaft.

With its pulsating hi-hat cymbals and funky wah-wah guitar, he created an urban soul-brother feel that transformed black music and paved the way for artists like Barry White and Millie Jackson.

His shaven-headed, bling-laden, ghetto chic look made him a black cultural icon.

Isaac Hayes was no overnight success. An orphan from a poor background in rural Tennessee where he was raised by his maternal grandparents, he taught himself to play the piano, organ and saxophone.

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

In partnership with songwriter David Porter, he was responsible for such classics as Sam and Dave's Soul Man and Hold On I'm Coming.

His own work climaxed with his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, described by one critic as the most important black recording since James Brown's Live at the Apollo.

It contained only four songs including an 18-minute version of Jimmy Webb's By the Time I Get to Phoenix and an extended reworking of Burt Bacharach's, Walk On By.

Shaft

With his rich baritone voice, Isaac Hayes became a staple of late-night and FM radio and was a precursor to artists like Barry White and to rap music.

Isaac Hayes' theme for Shaft in 1971 won him an Oscar for best original song, and set the tone for numerous successive "blaxploitation" movies - the genre in the 1970s targeted at a US African-American audience.

In the same year, in a politically-charged era, Hayes's Black Moses album established him as a black leader, and he became actively involved in the campaign to promote black civil rights.

It was inevitable that as well as scoring films, he would act in them too. His first role came with the 1974 Truck Turner; he appeared in some 60 movies on TV and the big screen, the most recent being the horror flick Return to Sleepaway Camp.

Isaac Hayes
Hayes was a major influence on the course of black music
Alongside his film and musical career, Isaac Hayes became increasingly involved with humanitarian causes.

The 1990s saw him travel to the West African state of Ghana to shoot a video with Barry White. It was the first of many visits there during which he helped fund a school to help the spread of literacy.

He was made a Ghanaian king with the title Nene Katey Ocansey. In 2005, he 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.

There were accusations of hypocrisy levelled against him when, in 2006, he walked out of the irreverent TV cartoon series, South Park, in which he voiced the character of the Chef.

The character had been a popular one and he had reached No. 1 in the UK charts with his South Park single, Chocolate Salty Balls.

What upset him was an episode in which one of the central characters, Stan, does well in a Scientology test and is hailed as the successor to the church's founder, L Ron Hubbard.

It also suggested Scientology was a lot of bogus claptrap aimed at parting vulnerable and rich people with their money.

Isaac Hayes had been a Scientologist for some 13 years. He became involved in several Scientology-related initiatives including one to aid impoverished inner-city schools.

Aside from his charity work, he owned two restaurants and hosted a nightly five-hour radio show in Memphis.

But he'll be best remembered as a man who influenced the course of black music.




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