Isaac Hayes Gets a B-, 1976

Today’s post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Research Services at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

The singer and actor Isaac Hayes had a distinctive voice.  When he sang or when he spoke, it was unmistakably him.  Hayes was a singer, songwriter, composer, and actor.  He was a major contributor to the “Memphis Sound” of the 1960s and 1970s.  Hayes is perhaps best known for writing and performing the theme song for the motion picture Shaft, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1972.  He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Younger generations know Hayes as the voice of Chef in the animated series South Park.

man w/sunglasses on, no shirt, sitting at piano
Isaac Hayes Performing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago, Oct 1973 (NAID 556307)

In late November 1976, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, sent a request for information about Hayes and his group to the Department of State.  The embassy reported that they might be playing in Khartoum in late December under a program sponsored by the government and a Sudanese official had asked for information.  In response, the Department sent the following telegram: 

informs the Dept panel on jazz, folk life, and pop music evaluates Hayes as satisfactory, and unimaginative soul singer with night club style
Telegram from Secretary of State to American Embassy, Khartoum, Dec 11, 1976 (NAID 654098)

While admittedly not at the height of his profession in 1976, the characterization of Hayes in this telegram is off base.  Unimaginative?  Clearly the author of the telegram had not listened to much Isaac Hayes.

Source: U.S. Embassy Khartoum to Department of State, Telegram 3473, November 24, 1976, 1976KHARTO03473; Department of State to U.S. Embassy Khartoum, Telegram 301597, December 11, 1976, 1976STATE301597, Central Foreign Policy Files, 1973-1979/Electronic Telegrams (NAID 654098), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.  Accessible through the  Access to Archival Databases (AAD) site.  I thank Michael McCoyer of the Office of the Historian at the Department of State for bringing these telegrams to my attention.

One thought on “Isaac Hayes Gets a B-, 1976

  1. interesting info about an entertainer that indeed i do remember. Thanks for sharing–J&L

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