Issac Hayes

Actor, Musician & Singer

“There's always hurdles. So I just keep moving, just constantly redefining myself. That's how you stay in the race.”

Issac Hayes was an American musician and actor. His hit song “Soul Man” and the musical score for the 1971 film Shaft are legendary contributions to modern music.

Early Life

Singer, songwriter and actor Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. was born August 20, 1942, in a tin shack in Covington, Tennessee, about 40 miles north of Memphis. After his mother died and his father left, he was raised by his maternal grandparents. The family moved to Memphis when he was 6. He never forgot his humble beginnings with his sharecropper family.

Issac Hayes

At the height of his fame, Hayes bought an estate in East Memphis overlooking the same cotton fields where he grew up. Hayes began singing in church at age five and in high school caught the attention of a guidance counselor who persuaded him to enter a talent show. He won it singing Nat King Cole's “Looking Back.” “When I finished, the house was on its feet, man, and I was a hit … So I started pursuing music big time,” Hayes said on his official website.

Early Career

Hayes played saxophone and piano in high school and performed in “doo-wop” and jazz bands. After graduating in 1962, he turned down seven college scholarships for music, and instead landed a job playing piano with saxophonist Floyd Newman's band in West Arkansas.

Newman was a staff musician at Memphis's Stax Records recording studio and Hayes eventually found work there playing keyboards. He worked with some of Rhythm and Blues biggest names at the time, including Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MGs, The Bar-Kays and Rufus Thomas, playing a key role in creating what became known as the Memphis Sound.

Hayes also wrote some 200 songs with David Porter, including “Soul Man” for Sam and Dave. The song was inspired television coverage of the 12 Street Detroit Riot, which indicated that African-American owned and operated institutions were marked with the word “soul” so that rioters would not destroy them.

Commercial Breakthrough

His career took off in 1969 with the landmark Hot Buttered Soul album, which included rap-vocals and longer songs, including an 18-minute version of Jimmy Webb's “By The Time I Get to Phoenix.” The album topped the Billboard R&B chart for 10 weeks and forced the music industry to conceive of soul music as an album art form.

Issac Hayes

At the time of emerging Black Power and with the death of Martin Luther King as a conscience building experience, Hayes transformed his image into a revolutionary statement, dressing in black leather, draping his bare chest in rows of gold chains and shaving his head completely.

Next came his career-defining soundtrack for the 1971 movie Shaft, for which Hayes picked up an Oscar, three Grammy awards and a Golden Globe award. Hayes began acting in scores of movies and television series.

Success as an Actor

His guest star appearances included TV shows The Rockford Files, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Miami Vice. He also appeared in more than three dozen feature films, including I'm Gonna ‘Git You, Sucka (1988), Guilty as Charged (1991), Escape from New York (1996) and Hustle & Flow (2005). Isaac Hayes returned to the music charts in 1986 with a new record deal with Columbia and a new album, U-Turn. In 1997 Hayes found a second career in with Comedy Central's animated cable series South Park. He was the voice of Chef, the cafeteria cook and self-professed ladies man who became a mentor to the students of South Park. The character was “the perfect alter ego for Hayes,” said his Web site. However, he angrily quit in 2006 after an episode mocked Scientology, a religion he followed since the mid 1990s.

Personal Life

In 2002, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his influence on disco, urban-contemporary music and rap. He also moved back home to Memphis where he pursed business interests, including two restaurants, a best-selling cookbook and barbecue sauces. He also wrote a self-help book, The Way to Happiness, and summarized his life experience in an interview: “At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own lives.”

Hayes was married four times and fathered 12 children. He died of a stroke August 10, 2008, after his wife, son and his wife's cousin found him unconscious at his home in Memphis, Tennessee. He is survived by his fourth wife, Adjowa, whom he married in 2005 and with whom he had a son.

Quick Facts

Birth Date:
August 20, 1942

Death Date:
August 10, 2008

  • He began singing at his local church at age five and eventually taught himself how to play the piano, organ, flute, and saxophone.
  • He played Chef on the animated Comedy Central series South Park, but left the show after an episode poked fun at Scientology.
  • He was crowned the honorary king of Ada, Ghana in recognition for his volunteer work there.
  • His mother died while he was still young, and his father deserted the family. He was largely raised by his maternal grandparents. He married his third wife Adjowa Hayes in 2005. He had a total of eleven children: seven daughters and four sons.
  • He co-wrote the 1979 Dionne Warwick song “Deja Vu.”
  • He earned the nickname the “Black Moses Of Soul,” and was the first famous black performer to wear chains as a symbol of success.
  • Hayes owned a 1972 Cadillac Ed Dorado that was fur-lined and plated in gold. One of the funkiest cars ever created, it is on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
  • Issac Hayes
  • Issac Hayes
  • Issac Hayes


BIO: +
PHOTO: Popculture + GeorgiaEncyclopedia + TheFunkySoulStory + BurningAmbulance + SoundGym

Last Updated

March 2018

Original Published Date

July 2016

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