Swoon Crooner. Founding Father of Sweet Soul. Black Moses. These are just some of the titles that have been given to entertainer Isaac Hayes throughout a career that began with his daydreams in the cotton fields of rural Tennessee and that has led him to international fame as a singer, composer, and actor.
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the part-time Atlanta resident recently sat down with Georgia Public Broadcasting Senior Correspondent Susan Hoffman to talk about his life and career. The GPB Original Production, ISAAC HAYES: A CONVERSATION premieres Friday, August 19, at 7 PM and encores Sunday August 21 at 1 PM exclusively on Georgia Public Broadcasting, your PBS station serving all of Georgia (Atlanta's Channel 8 is the network's flagship station).
"I just wanted to be somebody," Hayes says of his youth. "... I would stand in the cotton fields and look at the planes going overhead and think 'One of these days I'm gonna be on that plane.'"
Born to a sharecropper's family in 1942, and raised by his maternal grandparents, Hayes did odd jobs like pick cotton, shine shoes, and cut grass to make ends meet. But it was music that lifted his spirits and helped his boyhood dreams to soar.
He started singing in church as a young child and made his debut in an Easter program.Then with the encouragement of his grandmother, he took part in a school talent contest as a young teenager.
"When I sang, I got the crowd in the song," Hayes says. "I got on my knees with the microphone and the place went crazy. Girls were screaming. That's when I knew that I wanted a career as an entertainer."
Hayes eventually began taking any musical gig he could find, performing doo-wop, rock 'n' roll, blues and jazz. His talents led to a stint with the legendary Stax Records in Memphis as a songwriter, producer and session player. He co-wrote and co-produced such classics as Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man" while developing his own unique performance style.
In 1967, Hayes released his first album, "Presenting Isaac Hayes." He followed up with "Hot Buttered Soul" in 1969. But his rise to international stardom came with "Shaft," a movie about the dark side of the black community that boasted a black director and a black cast. Hayes' composition, "Theme from Shaft," won an Oscar in 1971 for Best Original Song. With this honor, he joined the ranks of actors Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier as one of only three African American Academy Award winners at that time in history.
Along with his musical career, Hayes has also enjoyed success as an actor. Among his many roles, he's known to millions of fans as Chef McElroy in the hit television series "South Park." He also has a role in the critically acclaimed theatrical film "Hustle & Flow" that was released in July.
Aside from his work as a musical performer and actor, Hayes has also found other ways to give of himself. Through his Isaac Hayes Foundation, he is an avid supporter of literacy and music education in America. A trip to West Africa in the early 90s with his friend and fellow artist Barry White inspired him to learn more about the people of Ghana. He established a high-tech school whose courses include computer technology and health education. To show their gratitude, the people of the region of Adah in Ghana have coronated Hayes as a king.
Hayes is also spreading the word about kidney disease, which claimed the life of his long-time friend Barry White. In a case of life imitating art, Hayes is a chef in his own right who has published two cookbooks. The most recent is "Kidney Friendly Comfort Foods."