It is with a very heavy heart that I write about the passing of one of Memphis music’s living legends, the incomparable soul impresario and composer Isaac Hayes. The shocking news of his untimely death has sent shockwaves through the music community here in Memphis, many (like me) struggling for some way to place the impact of his life’s work into personal perspective.
“Ike”, as he was known to his friends and colleagues, seems to me may have been ill for some time. It was well known, though not often spoken about, that Ike had long struggled with diabetes. The impact on his health is something I can only guess about, but I remember seeing him at the Recording Academy Honors this past fall and shaking his hand to say hello. His affable, open and pleasant demeanor was something he never shied away from even at the height of his celebrity. I was struck, then, to realize at that time the frailty of his handshake and the distance in his voice as I greeted him. Having known Ike since I was very little, and seeing him there in that situation, I was given pause. Commenting about the situation afterwards to friends, I have to believe that his closest friends and family members were aware that he was not in good health.
As recently as this week, Ike could be seen in advertising locally for a heart clinic running on a treadmill, not unlike the one next to which he was found. I made the comment to a friend, based on seeing the commercial, that I was somewhat surprised to see Isaac looking and sounding so well. I would be willing to venture a guess that this commercial has been pulled, so there’s no point in looking around for it.
I am really terrible at writing eulogies or tributes and, to be simple and direct, I’m kind of a mess right now about this. The music that Isaac Hayes brought to the world, the meaning of his work to American soul music, the long-reaching impact of his immense body of work, is something that I can’t really put into perspective right now. I just feel like I’m struggling to put the whole thing together in my head.
I know, however, that my understanding of the Memphis that is a part of my life will never be the same to me after the loss of Isaac Hayes. My condolences to his many friends and family members.