June 17, 2024

Isaac HayesIsaac Hayes Live at the
2004 African Festival of the Arts in Chicago

(September 2004)
by D. Kevin McNeir

When Isaac Hayes started his musical career, he was a little-known keyboardist at Stax/Volt in Memphis. But perseverance paid off for this 60-year-old Tennessee native as he honed his craft, writing hit songs for Sam & Dave and eventually becoming a top-selling composer, director and recording artist.

Hayes closed out Chicago’s 15th anniversary celebration of the African Festival of the Arts of the Arts, held in the heart of the City’s South Side in Washington Park. The festival has grown in size and reputation since its humble beginnings, even rivaling the City of Chicago’s Annual Jazz Festival which takes place each year during the same Labor Day Weekend.

And with this year’s theme, “Umbhiyoza,” which means “to celebrate” in South African Xhosa language, Hayes was an appropriate selection for the final entertainer.

While the start of his performance was delayed by almost one hour, Hayes did not disappoint his followers, hitting the stage in his trademark three-quarter length black leather jacket, black leather slacks, black shades and his shaved head and beard.

For some fans of soul/funk/jazz, Hayes, with his always soft-spoken, low-key vocal style, remains the senior statesman for a cadre of like-minded musicians that followed his lead: Norman Whitfield, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and the Ohio Players.

During his heyday in the 70’s many African Americans were drawn to him because he represented the antithesis of white sensibilities—a big, black, bald brother with an unnerving presence and a gritty voice that serenaded his listeners with songs of love, betrayal and racial affirmation.

For those who have never seen Hayes live, this concert was certainly entertaining—his vocalists were outstanding, particularly Rhonda Thomas (a vocal siren who has recently released her own solo CD). And with Jerry Patterson on drums, his longtime guitarist “Skip” and a cadre of other fine musicians, the band was as hot as the weather. But some may have been distracted by his familiar spoken verse offerings that sometimes were extended a little too long, specifically during his rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “By The Time I Get To Phoenix.” He employed the same technique while performing the Bacharach and David classic “Walk On By,” but with more positive results—the audience loved every measure of his soulful rendition.

To illustrate his ability to perform that “get-off-your-feet-and-jam funk sound, Hayes wowed listeners with “Do Your Thing,” an amazingly arranged piece that even segued into The Isley Brothers’ hit from the 70s, “It’s Your Thang.”

“It’s your thang, do what you wanta do; I can’t tell you, who to sock it to.” That was real music, in case you didn’t know. Hayes would close his performance with the always popular, Clifton Davis-penned “Never Can Say Goodbye,” his version of Chicago’s own Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused,” and finally, the “Theme from Shaft.”

Despite the need for fans to depart and prepare for work after the last long weekend of the summer, most remained just to hear Hayes say, “that cat Shaft is a bad mother … shut your mouth.” It was audience participation as its best and everyone, young and old, rose to their feet in tribute to a song that for the first time in America’s musical history celebrated and continues to affirm the black man’s masculinity and commitment to his family and community.

“Right On,” brother Isaac!

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