There’s a whole generation that knows him best for his catchphrase— Hello there, children! But Isaac Hayes…he’s much more than South Park’s Chef.
As a young session musician in Memphis, Isaac helped develop the gritty sound of Stax Records. Played his first session with Otis Redding. And with his partner, David Porter, Isaac wrote some of the most iconic songs of the era. That’s right. Isaac Hayes—Chef—wrote “Soul Man” for Sam and Dave. Incredible, huh?
He defined the soul sound, and then completely revamped it. On albums like Hot Buttered Soul and Black Moses, he got a hold of classic 3-minute pop numbers and spun them off into 15-minute long super tracks, like his revolutionary rendition of Burt Bacharach’s “Walk on By.”
And of course, he gave us that Shaft theme. Hayes composed the soundtrack for Shaft, the classic Blaxploitation film, in only four days, and later won the Oscar for it. Only the third African-American to win an Academy-Award, after actors Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier.
Songwriter, producer, singer, honorary Ghanaian Chief, The Chef on South Park and so much more…Isaac Hayes and Shaft.
(August 20, 1942-August 10, 2008)
American singer-songwriter, actor and producer Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. was born on August 20, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee. Raised by his grandparents, Hayes taught himself to play a variety of instruments—piano, organ, flute, saxophone—all while attending school and working cotton fields. When he graduated from high school, Hayes was offered a number of musical scholarships, though he turned them down initially in order to provide for his family. He worked at a meat packing plant by day and played juke joints by night, until he landed the job that would change his life.
By 1964, Isaac was working as a session musician, producer and in-house songwriter for Stax Records. It didn’t take long before Hayes established himself as a seminal creative force behind the development of the company’s grit and sweat soaked soul. At the age of 21 years old, Hayes’ participated in his first session for Stax, working under Otis Redding.
Through the mid-60’s, alongside his partner David Porter, Hayes wrote some of Stax’s greatest hits—songs like “Soul Man” and “Hold on I’m Comin’” for Sam and Dave, and “B-A-B-Y” for Carla Thomas.
By the late 60’s, Hayes began to develop his own sound. Albums like Hot Buttered Soul (’69) and Black Moses (’71), saw him stepping into the spotlight and ultimately revolutionizing the sound of soul—the genre he’d helped shape from the background.
In 1971, Hayes became the third African American, after Sidney Poitier and Hattie McDaniel, to win an Academy Award for his soundtrack to the Blaxploitation hit Shaft. The “Theme from Shaft” went on to win two Grammys, becoming a super-hit worldwide. Now one of the most famous theme songs of all time, the soundtrack was written and recorded in only four days, with Hayes leading the Stax house band The Bar Kays.
Isaac Hayes continued to record, as well as perform in film and television. His career saw a major resurgence in the 1990s when he took a gig as the dirty-minded soul-singing Chef on the Comedy Central show South Park. From 1997-2006, he held down the series as one of its most beloved characters.
In 1992, he was crowned an honorary chief/king in Ghana, in recognition of his humanitarian work on behalf of the African nation. He passed away in August of 2008.