MEMPHIS – Isaac Hayes' Strange Funerals | Stars Get Ready for Denver
Isaac Hayes, Oscar-winner, R&B legend and musical icon, got two sendoffs in two days here in his Tennessee hometown, and each was as strange as it was surreal.
Monday afternoon had been billed as a tribute to Hayes, and many in the Memphis music community thought it would be the day of the Stax Records star’s actual funeral. But in fact, a "secret" service was held on Sunday in order to accommodate a boatload of celebrities who flew into town under cloak of night.
Some were associated with the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes was a member for the last 16 years, including Tom Cruise, church leaders David Miscavige and Tom Davis, actress Anne Archer (who is Davis' mom), Kelly Preston (aka Mrs. John Travolta), musicians Chick Corea and Mark Isham, and comic Doug E. Fresh.
But then there were the celebs who just zipped in and zipped out for the Sunday service with no religious connection to Hayes: Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, musicians Bootsy Collins and Chuck D., Earth Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, R&B great Denise La Salle, directors John Singleton and Craig Brewer, and actor Richard Roundtree, who played the original John Shaft in the movie for which Isaac got his Oscar for Best Music in a Motion Picture. The Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson were there, too.
And then there were what might be described as two other factions, each belonging to one larger group: the locals. They were the musicians Isaac had known and grown up with for 40 years, including Stax chiefs Jim Stewart and Al Bell, Eddie Floyd, Sir Mack Rice, William Bell, Marvell Thomas, Mabel John, Pat Lewis and the original back-up singers from Isaac’s albums, song collaborator David Porter and all of the band members who’d comprised Isaac’s road shows for the last four decades.
The other side of the local coin included his 11 grown children, three ex-wives, 2-year-old son, his widow, and many friends who had come in cars, buses and trains from all over the country to pay their final respects. Booker T Jones, of Booker T and the MGs, took three flights to Memphis to make the Monday service after playing in New York on Friday night and Nantucket on Saturday night.
The Scientologists and the Memphians were certainly not an easy mesh, as the Memphis Commercial Appeal noted for several days leading up to the funerals. The Hope Presbyterian Church, a big, hulking concrete church, was chosen for its size. But the church leaders did not want a Scientologist minister leading a service there. So the memorial service, planned mostly by the Scientologists, was hosted by R&B star William Bell as a compromise.
During the service, we learned from the Rev. Alfreddie Johnson how Hayes became a Scientologist in 1992 in Los Angeles. Many others invoked the name of the religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard, during the three-hour memorial, and the church filmed its members at the podium.
But no one bothered to sing an Isaac Hayes song or talk much about his music. Most of the offerings were about the speakers, with little light shined on the man they were honoring. The exception was a Ghanian woman named Princess Asie Oscansey, who described in lengthy detail the charitable contribution Hayes had made to her village to support an 8,000-square-foot school that uses Scientology teaching methods.
Not only were there no Hayes songs, there was little discussion of his movie career, barely a whisper about his famous “Theme from Shaft,” and not even a suggestion of his long, funny career as Chef on “South Park.”
The Scientology speakers and performers — there were seven in all — made little reference to Hayes’ 11 grown children, just to his wife of three years and their 2-year-old son. This prompted Hayes' eldest daughter, Veronica, who didn’t get to speak until nearly two and a half hours had passed, to declare, "Just to clear it up, there are 11 children." Ouch!
There also were tributes from Isaac’s music celebrity friends, like Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Sam Moore and Aretha Franklin.
The frisson, if you will, between the Memphians and the Scientologists was a first, but had an interesting aspect to it. Each is more or less a closed society, and neither was much interested in learning anything about the other — though there were occasional compliments tossed in either direction.
Hayes was buried, by the way, not next to his beloved grandmother, but in a cemetery described by his music friends, somewhat bitterly, as "mostly all Caucasian."
Luckily, here’s a great footnote: Despite these odd events, Isaac’s real friends finally got to throw him a going away party late Monday night. It happened at an unlikely place: the restaurant lounge at the Executive Inn at the airport.
Every musician associated with Stax or who had known or worked with Isaac and was around was invited by Randy Stewart and Gene Mason to come down and put on a show. And so they did, with a hot pick-up band that included Marvell Thomas, Ben Cauley, Ronnie Williams and various members of Stax groups like the MadLads, Bar Kays, Temprees and Soul Children.
The place was so packed that the heat became an issue, and people kept dragging in larger and larger fans. Memphis stalwarts like Toni Greene and Stacey Marino sang, and eventually Isaac’s Sam & Dave hits like "Hold On I’m Coming" and "When Something Is Wrong with My Baby" were sung by the whole crowd.
It was a glorious, proper ending to a wild day, proving Memphis R&B lives on no matter what.
How many stars are going to Denver next week for the Democratic Convention? Let's put it this way: they're going to have major gridlock in the Mile High City thanks to limos everywhere. The pollution level should go way up from A-listers in their individual gas-guzzling block-long vehicles!
The music celebs alone should be tantalizing. James Taylor and Tony Bennett are performing for Nancy Pelosi at a benefit, and Kanye West is doing the same for the Recording Industry of America. Vanity Fair is having a party with Google as a co-host, which should mean a total blowout effect, since everyone will want to be there.
The Creative Coalition, a non-partisan group, is bringing a boatload of stars with them including Annette Bening (which could mean that hubby Warren Beatty is nearby), Matthew Modine, Kerry Washington, Joey Pantoliano, Susan Sarandon, Tony Goldwyn, new co-president Tim Daly, Quentin Tarantino and Lawrence O'Donnell. So many celebs are coming that I've heard Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson is considering making a documentary about the whole experience!
The CC is also bringing all of the Black Eyed Peas, but here's the rub: Denver hotel space is so limited that the Peas will have to stay in a Pod way outside the main city and be imported!
The good news too is that the great Creative Coalition co-founder Ron Silver, who's been ailing, is considering doing his Sirius radio show from Denver for the week. Here's hoping Mel Karmazin lays on a lot of good perks for Sirius' best political talk show host!
And just in case you're only interested in the Republican convention, they've got their share of stars tuning up. Lists are just being confirmed now.