Isaac Lee Hayes, Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and producer.
Hayes was one of the creative forces behind the southern soul music label Stax Records, where he served both as an in-house songwriter and as a record producer, teaming with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s.
Hayes, Porter, Bill Withers, the Sherman Brothers, Steve Cropper, and John Fogerty were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of writing scores of notable songs for themselves, the duo Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, and others.
He was well known for his musical score for the film Shaft (1971).
For the “Theme from Shaft”, he was awarded the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1972.
He became the third African-American, after Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel, to win an Academy Award in any competitive field covered by Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also won two Grammy Awards for that same year.
Later, he was given his third Grammy for his music album Black Moses.
From 1997 to 2005, he lent his distinctive, deep voice to the character “Chef” on the animated TV series South Park.
His influences were Percy Mayfield, Big Joe Turner, James Brown, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and psychedelic soul groups like The Chambers Brothers and Sly and the Family Stone.
Hayes dropped out of high school, but his former teachers at Manassas High School in Memphis encouraged him to complete his diploma, which he did at age 21.
After graduating from high school, Hayes was offered several music scholarships from colleges and universities.
He turned down all of them to provide for his immediate family, working at a meat-packing plant in Memphis by day and playing nightclubs and juke joints several evenings a week in Memphis and nearby northern Mississippi.
In 1970, Hayes released two albums, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued.
The former stuck to the four-song template of his previous album.
Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused” begins with a trademark spoken word monologue and Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to do with myself” is re-worked.
The latter spawned the classic “The Look of Love”, another Bacharach song transformed into an 11-minute epic of lush orchestral rhythm (mid-way it breaks into a rhythm guitar jam for a couple of minutes before suddenly resuming the slow love song).
An edited three-minute version was issued as a single.
The album also featured the instrumental “Ike’s Mood,” which segued into his own version of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”. Hayes released a Christmas single, “The Mistletoe and Me” (with “Winter Snow” as a B-side).
By 1980 tastes had changed, but Hayes was already making his mark as a b-movie action star, and when he was tapped for voiceover work on a new TV series, South Park, he readily accepted.
As Chef, he was a main fixture on the show until 2006 when an episode about Scientology, to which he was a recent convert, upset him, causing him to quit.
Hayes continued to record and make movies until August 2008, when he was found dead in his Memphis home from an apparent heart attack.