Isaac Lee Hayes Jr. (August 20, 1942 – August 10, 2008) was an American singer-songwriter, actor, voice 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 session musician and record producer, teaming with his partner David Porter during the mid-1960s. Hayes and Porter, along with 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 songs for themselves, the duo Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, and others. In 2002, Hayes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The song "Soul Man", written by Hayes and Porter and first performed by Sam & Dave, has been recognized as one of the most influential songs of the past 50 years by the Grammy Hall of Fame. It was also honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by Rolling Stone magazine, and by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as one of the Songs of the Century. During the late 1960s, Hayes also began a career as a recording artist. He had several successful soul albums such as Hot Buttered Soul (1969) and Black Moses (1971). In addition to his work in popular music, he worked as a composer of musical scores for motion pictures.
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.
In recognition of his humanitarian work there Hayes was crowned honorary king of the Ada, Ghana region in 1992. He acted in motion pictures and television, such as in the movies Truck Turner and I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, and as Gandolf "Gandy" Fitch in the TV series The Rockford Files (1974–1980). He voiced the character Chef from the animated Comedy Central series South Park from its debut in 1997 until 2005. 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.
On August 5, 2003, Hayes was honored as a BMI Icon at the 2003 BMI Urban Awards for his enduring influence on generations of music makers. Throughout his songwriting career, Hayes received five BMI R&B Awards, two BMI Pop Awards, two BMI Urban Awards and six Million-Air citations. As of 2008, his songs generated more than 12 million performances.
On March 20, 2006, Roger Friedman of Fox News reported that Hayes had suffered a minor stroke in January. Hayes's spokeswoman, Amy Harnell, denied this, but on October 26, 2006, Hayes himself confirmed that he had suffered a stroke. Hayes was found unresponsive in his home located just east of Memphis on August 10, 2008, ten days before his 66th birthday, as reported by the Shelby County, Tennessee Sheriff's Department. A Shelby County Sheriff's deputy and an ambulance from Rural Metro responded to his home after three family members found him on the floor next to a still-operating treadmill. Hayes was taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis, where he was pronounced dead at 2:08 p.m. The cause of death was not immediately clear, though the area medical examiners later listed a recurrence of stroke as the cause of death. He was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery.