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Isaac Hayes Innovative Singer, Composer Changed Pop Music

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Los Angeles Times Indepth Obituary
Isaac Hayes, the musician, composer and producer whose innovative sound changed the shape of pop music and whose shaved head, bejeweled outfits and regal demeanor embodied African American masculinity in the 1970s, has died. He was 65.

Family members found Hayes unresponsive Sunday afternoon next to a treadmill in a downstairs bedroom in his home just east of Memphis, Tenn., said Steve Shular, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office. Hayes' wife, Adjowa, told investigators that her husband “had not been in the best of health recently," Shular said. No autopsy is planned.

With albums including 1969's “Hot Buttered Soul" and the double-disc, Grammy-winning “Black Moses" in 1971, Hayes laid the groundwork for both disco and hip-hop.

His rich, baritone voice backed by gently unfurling, string-laden arrangements showed how R&B could be both funky and ornate. His famous ruminative interludes on such songs as his cover of Jimmy Webb's “By the Time I Get to Phoenix" set the stage for rap's elevation of the black male speaking voice.

He was most famous for his 1971 soundtrack for the blaxploitation classic “Shaft," which brought him an Academy Award for best song as well as two Grammys, but Hayes had a long and storied career beyond that Hollywood high point. In 2002, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

His music and his image as a black artist had a titanic power, especially during the apex of his fame. With his shaved head, omnipresent sunglasses and equally ever-present gold jewelry, he cut a strong, marketable figure.

In the 1970s, he released a string of albums for Stax Records, a label that offered a grittier counterpoint to the Motown sound. Hayes' recordings expanded the playing field for soul and R&B artists, proving that an album-oriented market existed for his experimental sounds.

“Hayes' story is one of epic proportions," wrote ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman in “Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records" (1997). “In the first few years of the 1970s he single-handedly redefined the sonic possibilities for black music, in the process opening up the album market as a commercially viable medium for black artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Funkadelic, and Curtis Mayfield."

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