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Farewell ‘Isaac,’ and thanks

MEMPHIS – Ministers, politicians, actors, rappers, Stax legends, former school mates and several of Isaac Hayes’ fellow Scientologists were among about 2,500 who paid tribute to the legendary entertainer during a memorial service on Monday.




MEMPHIS – Ministers, politicians, actors, rappers, Stax legends, former school mates and several of Isaac Hayes’ fellow Scientologists were among about 2,500 who paid tribute to the legendary entertainer during a memorial service on Monday.

The tribute to the crooner with the rich baritone voice was held at Hope Presbyterian Church in Cordova, a Memphis suburb. Well-wishers and friends came from near and far.

The list included: “Bootsy” Collins, the purveyor of funk; attorney Willie Gary; rapper Doug E. Fresh; movie producer Craig Brewer; Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire; Rev. Al Sharpton; actress Ann Archer; Rev. Jesse Jackson; Stax co-owner Al Bell; Deanie Parker, former president and CEO of Soulsville and the former director of Publicity, Artists and Community Relations for Stax Records; and actor Richard Roundtree, who played private-eye John Shaft in the movie that earned Hayes an Oscar.

The tribute began with an African drumbeat, followed by a procession of Hayes’ loved ones into the sanctuary: his wife, Adjowa, his 12 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Soul singer William Bell hosted the event and referred to it throughout the three-hour tribute as “a celebration of life.” Bell lives in Atlanta and was a major player during the Stax revolution.

Hayes died Aug. 10 after an apparent stroke. Many called him the “Black Moses” and pointed to his groundbreaking “Hot Buttered Soul” album as the catapult for his success.

Those who knew him best recalled a man who walked with kings but was compelled to serve humanity. His roots ran deep like a redwood tree, said Sharpton, all the way to Ghana.

Commenting on Hayes’ monologue in songs, Sharpton noted the entertainer’s respect for women and alluded to the denigration of women in some of the songs by today’s rap artists.

“Isaac’s rap made women pull their shoulder’s back and made them feel like the women they were,” Sharpton said.

Jackson said Hayes came from picking cotton to picking up an Oscar. He said Hayes, who rose from the cotton fields in Covington, Tenn., to the entertainment zenith to royalty in Ghana, had come far and did much in his 65 years.

“He was our king,” said Princess Naa Asie Ocansey of Ghana. She said Ghana is planning a lavish memorial service for Hayes, who is known by his African name, Nene Katey Ocansey.

Ocansey said a learning center will be renamed in November for the man whose philanthropic contributions helped build a school for Ghanaians along with needed healthcare.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen floated the idea of honoring Hayes by renaming the Memphis International Airport. “How does the ‘Isaac Hayes Memphis International Airport’ sound?” Cohen asked.

Stax owner, Al Bell, said the celebrated Hayes influenced rap, pop and hip-hop.

“He couldn’t read or write music, but he could arrange orchestral arrangements in his head,” said Bell.

Hayes thought outside the box and influenced other artists to do the same, said Bell, citing Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” as a perfect example.

“I pray that in his transition that his music would get more exposure,” he said.

The salute to Hayes included several musical tributes. Kirk Whalum wailed away on his saxophone, R&B singer Little G. sang and stroked the piano, and Chick Corea and Mark Isham played jazz.

Hayes and his songwriting partner David Porter wrote more than 200 songs. In the Hayes tribute booklet, Porter made reference to two songs from their catalog: from “When Something is Wrong,” he wrote: “When something is wrong with my baby/ Something is wrong with me/ And if I know he is worried/ I feel the same misery.”

From “Soul Man,” he wrote: “Grab the rope/ And I’ll pull you in/ Give you hope/ And be your only friend.”

What others had to say…

Media personality George Klein called Elvis Presley his best friend but said Hayes was very talented and that he’d put him in the same category as Presley. “Isaac and Elvis were right at the top,” Klein said. “They were brothers from a different mother.”

Klein said he first met Hayes under dire circumstances. “He was sleeping in the back of a car at Thomas and Chelsea. (But) I knew Isaac when he cut his first record at American Studios.”

James Alexander, a member of the funk group The Bar-Kays, said it was Hayes who “got me started in this business. He was a great man and a special friend.”

Sisters Elaine Lee Turner and Brenda Lee Turner went to Manassas High School with Hayes. “We took music, English and were in the mass choir and Glee Club together,” said Brenda Turner, who graduated in 1961.

“He would sing and win (talent) contests. And I would say to him, ‘You are my second favorite because Nat King Cole is my favorite,’ recalled Brenda Turner. “He loved Manassas. He even talked about Manassas on ‘The Jay Leno Show’ and wore gold and blue.”

Hayes graduated in 1962 along with Elaine Turner. “He was one of the graduating speakers,” she said. “He had such a wonderful voice that we competed with one another.”

Hayes had personality and talent to match, said Elaine Turner. “His talent was of such that everybody wanted to listen to him. He would practice music on the stage after school. We knew he was destined for greatness.”

Veteran rapper Doug E. Fresh held court with a group of reporters before the tribute.

“Anybody from hip-hop that did rap, Isaac was the blue print,” said Fresh. “He had some of the most classic beats ever.”

Marvell Thomas, a session musician for Stax before Hayes’ arrival, contributed to the success of the “Hot Buttered Soul” album.

“There were a lot of groundbreaking things that happened with that album. We had vision in music, and we thought outside the box,” said Thomas. “A lot of radio stations had to alter their format for songs to be played on the air.”

Thomas said Hayes’ legacy hasn’t been written. “We know the things he’s done, but we don’t know the fallout from it. It can’t be anything but positive.”

Marc E. Willis, chief executive officer of Stax Museum of American Soul Music, said Hayes’ legacy is full.

“He will be remembered as an innovator and humanitarian,” said Willis. “We will continue to honor him. It will most likely involve kids.”

Photos by Real Times News Service/Earl Stanback

(In main photo: James Alexander (left) of The Bar-Kays and Bootsy Collins; Second photo: Former Stax muscian Marvell Thomas (right) chats with Hayes’ former classmate Elaine Turner. Her sister Brenda Turner (center) also knew Hayes at Manassas High School; Third photo: Ac
tor Richard Roundtree, who played detective John Shaft in the movie that earned Isaac Hayes an Oscar; Fourth photo: Al Sharpton was among the 2,500 who attended the tribute.)

Copyright 2008 Tri-State Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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