Sunday, August 10, 2008
Too soon, times two ...
It's been a bad weekend to be black and famous in America. Many of us were still reeling from the news yesterday of the pneumonia-related death of Bernie Mac when the word broke just a few minutes ago that Isaac Hayes has been found dead in his Memphis home. Hayes was 65 and reportedly was dealing with some health issues, his body was discovered by family members next to a treadmill.
Beyond the obvious pain that the family of members of Mac and Hayes obviously are dealing with, the loss of these two men leave a large hole in the culture. Both men were pioneers in their own right. Mac's profane but profound comedic style owed much to the work of such talents as Bill Cosby, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, but he also brought his own edge and perspective to his stand-up act, reflecting the challenges of men dealing with new ways of thinking and dealing with life and its ups and downs. He told it like it was, whether on the comedy stage or on his acclaimed sitcom, The Bernie Mac Show, which earned him Emmy nominations an won a Peabody Award. He also made a mark in the movies, including a lead role one of the better baseball films in recent years, Mr. 3000 (we'll forgive that he played a Milwaukee Brewer), and a supporting role in the Ocean's 11 franchise, where he more than held his own with the likes of George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle. Most of all, Mac, who was just 50, was a dedicated family man and a loyal friend.
Hayes was simply iconic. His musical talents helped turn the Stax Records label from just another record company to a major force in music and beyond moving the early 70s. He fused pop, funk and soul into a potent blend that paved the way for such musical genres as disco and hip-hop. He's best known, of course, for his soundtrack to the blaxploitation epic Shaft, including the title song that became a smash hit and won Hayes an Oscar, making him the first African-American to win a non-acting Academy Award. (Hayes, being his own man, famously wore a shirt made of nothing but chains during his Oscar ceremony performance.) But his previous album, 1969's Hot Buttered Soul, may be an even greater musical achievement, as Hayes' acclaimed spin on some favorite standards put him and his distinctive bald pate on the map. (After Soul, You'll never listen to Burt Bacharach the same way again.) Later on, Hayes found a new audience as the voice of the wise but eccentric Chef on the cartoon series South Park. But it's his music that will be his ultimate legacy.
Ironically, Mac and Hayes will co-star in the comedy film Soul Men later on this year. The movie stars Mac and Samuel L. Jackson as former signing partner who reluctantly reunite, with Hayes playing himself. Let's hope and pray that they won't have to dedicate Soul Men to anyone else between now and November.
A testament to the power of Issac Hayes: