The weight of soul singer Isaac Hayes’ legacy in Memphis could be measured in a single remark at his memorial service today (Aug. 18).
“What would you say if you were flying into Memphis and they said you are about to land at Isaac Hayes International Airport,” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen asked, drawing a huge burst of applause during a four-hour service of music, speakers and video clips.
Cohen, who represented Hayes’ area of Memphis, said the city should celebrate Hayes, an architect of the Memphis sound, as it celebrates Elvis Presley. “He is a world person who the world will miss,” Cohen said.
The deep-voiced soul singer died Aug. 10 after he was found unconscious at his Memphis residence. No autopsy was performed, but paperwork filed by Hayes’ family doctor, David Kraus, lists the cause of death as a stroke.
About 3,000 fans and friends attended the service. They remembered Hayes for his music and his movies and for his humanitarian work that included building a school in Ghana.
“He was a lovely man, always involved with causes,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson said before the service. “Literacy, civil rights. He was always there, and that’s why we’re all here for him.”
Jackson was among the speakers that included Al Sharpton and actresses and fellow scientologists Anne Archer and Kelly Preston.
Richard Roundtree, who starred in the 1971 movie “Shaft,” whose theme song was penned and performed by Hayes, was there, as was David Porter, Hayes’ co-writer from his Stax Records days.
Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Wesley Snipes attended a private service Sunday.
The Monday service began with a drum march through the sanctuary and a video clip of Hayes and Jackson on stage together at a concert in the Watts area of Los Angeles in 1972. Jackson pulled off Hayes’ cap to reveal his signature shaved head, then Hayes slipped off his robe to show his red spandex pants and chain vest.
“Thank God for Isaac living 65 years and making a difference in our lives,” Jackson said.
Sharpton said Hayes never forgot his Southern roots. He recalled a time when “Hollywood didn’t send its stars to us, we sent our stars to them.”
“Isaac came from our culture. He emanated our culture. That’s why he never lost his authenticity, never lost his conviction,” Sharpton said. “There is a difference between authentic and fabricated.”
As for his music, Hayes hooked up with Stax in the early ’60s and with Porter crafted songs that became cultural touchstones, including Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and “Hold On! I’m Comin’.” Their sound was a gritty Southern counterpart to Motown hits coming from Detroit.
Later, his “Theme From Shaft” won both Academy and Grammy awards, and he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He appeared in a number of films, including “Escape from New York” and provided the voice for Chef in the TV comedy series “South Park.”
“There would be no Isaac Hayes without Stax and no Stax without Isaac Hayes,” Jackson remarked.
Sharpton contrasted today’s rap music with Hayes’ smooth soul, saying Hayes lifted up women while rap denigrates and “beats them down.”
But Doug E. Fresh, a rapper and record producer, said outside the church that Hayes’ music directly influenced rap and hip-hop. “Hip-hop wouldn’t be what it is without Isaac Hayes,” Fresh said.
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