Isaac Hayes' Kids Pose With His 'Shaft' Oscar: "It Was Life-Changing for Him"

John Shearer
Daughters (back row, from left) Heather Hayes, Veronica Hayes, (front row, from left) Melanie Hayes and Nikki McGee and Isaac’s son Nana Kwadjo Hayes, 9, were photographed Feb. 4 in Memphis.

The late singer-songwriter, who won best original song for 1971's "Theme From Shaft," took his grandmother — who mostly raised him — to the ceremony and kept the statuette at her house until she died.

This story first appeared in the March 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

When Hayes performed his Oscar-nominated song "Theme From Shaft" on a smoke-filled stage at the 1972 Academy Awards, the Hollywood establishment didn't know what to make of the bald, bare-chested dude in dark shades and a gold chainmail vest surrounded by dancers in Afros and white bell-bottoms. "Can you dig it?" he crooned.

Not everyone could. After all, previous original song Oscars had gone to the likes of Burt Bacharach. But later that night, the then-29-year-old son of a Tennessee sharecropper family took home the gold and became the third African-American to win an Oscar (after Hattie McDaniel and Sidney Poitier). Hayes also paved the way for pop and rap stars who once might have been considered Oscar outsiders, from Lionel Richie to Bruce Springsteen to Eminem.

"I'm as proud of my father today as I was the very first time I saw him perform," says Melanie Hayes, 47, who was too young to remember that night. Her sister, Heather Hayes, 46, adds that a photo of their father holding the Oscar and standing with his grandmother Rushia Wade, who mostly raised him (and who kept it in her house until she died in 1997), is "etched in my brain. Being able to take her to the Oscars and win was life-changing for him. It meant anything is possible in this life."

Hayes kept the award at his Memphis restaurant after Wade died, then he himself suffered a series of strokes and died at home in 2008 at age 65. His legacy lives on through his 11 children, ages 9 to 53, 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Because his brood is so sprawling, the family found an appropriate place to showcase the Oscar: Since 2011, it has been on display at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, which draws 55,000 visitors yearly and is located on the site of the original Stax Records, home to Hayes and other music legends such as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave (Hayes co-wrote their classic "Soul Man").

The statuette sits on a pedestal in the museum not far from Hayes' custom 1972 gold-trimmed, peacock-blue Cadillac Eldorado — "by far the most popular item in the museum," says executive director Jeff Kollath. Adds his son, Atlanta-based record producer/voice actor Isaac Hayes III, 40, who manages his father's estate: "My father merged orchestras, organs and bottom-heavy soul music in a way that's really great. The Oscar is the culmination of that."

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