Isaac Hayes


Born August 20, 1942, in Covington, Tennessee, Isaac Hayes has received countless awards for a forty-plus-year career in music, film, television, and radio. His music has influenced funk, soul, and disco, and many artists, rappers included, have emulated his smooth vocals and sampled his music. Capitalizing on his distinctive hot, buttery voice, Hayes has also made his mark in film, animated television, and radio. Additionally, his humanitarian efforts have raised awareness and funding for music education and the international fight against illiteracy and AIDS. With his characteristic bald pate, beard, and sunglasses, and a flashy wardrobe of gold chains, fur, and leather, Isaac Hayes is an American entertainment icon.

The self-appointed “Black Moses” was raised with his sister by his sharecropper grandparents after the death of his mother. The family moved to Memphis when Hayes was a child and, when his grandfather died a few years later, Hayes contributed to the family earnings by working odd jobs. Self-conscious about his poverty, he dropped out of historic Manassas High School for a short time but was encouraged to re-enroll by a group of influential teachers. His teachers’ devotion to his education inspired his own life-long appreciation for learning. When honored with a marker by the Tennessee Historical Commission, Hayes chose to place it at Manassas, a Rosenwald-funded school significant to the educational history of African Americans in Memphis. Hayes graduated Manassas High School in 1962 at the age of twenty-one.

Isaac Hayes played with several musical acts while in high school and after graduation, learning some instruments through trial and error. He officially joined Stax Records as a studio musician in 1964. Hayes played keyboards, saxophone, and clarinet for several Stax artists, even substituting for Booker T. Jones of the house band, Booker T. and the MGs, when Jones attended college. While at Stax, Hayes joined with David Porter to form the songwriting and production duo “Soul Children.” Together, the Hayes-Porter team penned numerous R&B classics including “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Coming,” “B-A-B-Y,” and “I Got to Love Somebody’s Baby” for Stax artists Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, and Johnnie Taylor.

In 1967, Hayes embarked upon a solo career with the release of his debut album, Presenting Isaac Hayes, reportedly recorded during the late hours after a party at Stax. Two years later, Hayes broke musical ground with the landmark Hot Buttered Soul, a full-length album featuring just four tracks of lush sounds and monologue-style vocals. Even the album cover challenged convention with a close-up image of his shaven head.

Isaac Hayes’s solo discography is lengthy and spans several decades, but he will always be associated with the edgy riff and clever lyrics of the chart-topper “Theme from Shaft.” For this contribution to the 1971 film, Hayes received an Academy Award for Original Song, the first African American so honored. He also received several nominations for the Original Score and won two Grammys, a Golden Globe, an NAACP Image Award, and an Edison Award for his work. After ten albums, Hayes left Stax and established his Hot Buttered Soul label in 1975, but the label quickly folded. Hayes soon recovered and went on to record again elsewhere, performing duets with Dionne Warwick and Millie Jackson and serving as musician and arranger for new artists. In addition to an abundance of compilation albums and numerous live recordings, concert films and documentaries featuring Hayes include Only the Strong Survive, Wattstax, and Soul Comes Home, the latter produced in celebration of the grand opening of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis.

Hayes has appeared in several movies, including the leading role in Truck Turner (1974) and roles in Escape from New York (1981), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and Hustle and Flow (2005). He also appeared in the 2000 remake of Shaft and contributed the song “Shaft 2000” for the project. Hayes has numerous television credits, but he is best known as the voice of “Chef,” the wise cafeteria cook of Comedy Central’s animated show South Park and performer of the saucy song “Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You).”

For several years Hayes jockeyed a classic soul radio show in New York, eventually returning home to host a show on the soul station in Memphis. His restaurant, Isaac Hayes Music-Food-Passion, has locations in Memphis and Chicago–complemented by his memoir-filled cookbook, Cooking with Heart and Soul: Making Music in the Kitchen with Family and Friends. A devoted Scientologist since 1993, Hayes also authored The Way to Happiness.

Claiming Ghana as his ancestral home, in 1992 Isaac Hayes was enthroned as an African king and member of the Royal Family of Noyami Mantse in Ghana as Nene (King) Katey Ocansey I, Honorary King for Development of the Ada Tradition in recognition of his humanitarian work. Back in the United States, Hayes continues to receive accolades for his music. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2002. He received the BMI Icon Award in August 2003 and a year later received the 2004 R&B Founders Award at the Billboard/American Urban Radio Networks R&B/Hip-Hop Awards show. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. A multi-faceted entertainer, Isaac Hayes has managed to stay current for diverse audiences throughout his career.

Suggested Reading

Rob Bowman, Soulsville, USA: The Story of Stax Records (1997)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Isaac Hayes
  • Coverage 1942-
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date May 26, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018