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American Soul and Funk legend Isaac Hayes has died at his home in Memphis, at the age of 65.

Hayes, best known for his work on the 1971 film Shaft and as the voice of “Chef” on South Park, won multiple Grammys and even an Academy Award during his illustrious career. Raised by his grandparents in Covington, he escaped his cotton picking upbringing to become a session player for various acts of the Memphis-based Stax Records. After co-writing a series of hits that have since become R&B standards – such as Soul Man and When Something is Wrong With My Baby – Hayes hit the bigtime with the soundtrack of Shaft.

Hayes was also well known as a champion of human rights. As an international spokesman for the World Literacy Crusade, Isaac Hayes encouraged young people to stay in school. He was also a longtime supporter of the Shepherd Foundation, a Harlem-based charity that researches alternative treatments for degenerative diseases. In 1999 he established the Isaac Hayes Foundation, a charity that supports global causes, serves the needs of the community, and – according to his website – assists “vulnerable populations in realizing their full potential through grants, technical assistance and program development in the areas of health care, economic, community, environmental and human development”.

In 1992, Hayes was appointed Honorary King for Development of the Ada Tradition area in Ghana in Western Africa. This meant he was responsible for improving literacy as well as spurring industrial and economic growth. In the summer of 2000, he opened a school in Ghana designed to link children in Africa with those in American inner cities via the Internet. He also supported Youth for Human Rights International, the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, and the ONE Campaign. Hayes also wrote a free eBook called The Way To Happiness, which gave easy and straightforward hints on how people can make choices to determine their happiness and quality of life.

“Isaac Hayes was a wonderful human being,” said Collin Stanback, an A&R executive at Stax. “His spirit will live long in the form of his music.”

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