Thursday Throwback: Isaac Hayes

Over forty years after the release of Isaac Hayes’ double album, the soundtrack from the feature film Shaft, people still quote the famous lyric “They say this cat Shaft is a bad motha’…shut yo’ mouth!” It’s really no surprise.  The album’s blockbuster single “Theme From Shaft” couldn’t help but be a hit with Hayes at the helm, The Barkays holding down the rhythm tracks and actress/singer Telma Hopkins (of Family Matters, Bosom Buddies, and the pop group Tony Orlando and Dawn) singing in the background.

The song became a hit back in 1971 and was the best selling album for Memphis-based Stax Records.  It made it to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart while the album held the top spot on the R&B Album chart for 14 weeks and remained on the pop charts for well over a year.  In addition to the huge reception from music fans, “Theme From Shaft” swept up numerous industry awards, including Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical) and Best Instrumental Arrangement at the 1972 Grammy Awards, as well as album of the year from The National Association of Television and Radio Announcers. Hayes also broke ground becoming the first African American to win an Oscar for a non-acting category when the song won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.  “The Theme From Shaft” continues to remain a mainstay in popular culture, from Bart and Lisa Simpson performing it in a Japanese karaoke bar on The Simpsons to the late Michael Clarke Duncan singing it on the sitcom Two And A Half Men.  Singer Sammy Davis, Jr. recorded his own rendition of the song, and countless hip-hop artists have used “Theme From Shaft” in their music–most notably Jay-Z, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, and N.W.A.

–Montrose Cunningham

Montrose Cunningham is an independent funk/rock/soul artist and devoted music aficionado residing in Dallas, Texas. When he isn’t digging through the crates–digital and analog–he’s jamming with his band or hanging with his daughters, sometimes at the same time. Purchase his latest release “Inertia” at, visit him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter @MontroseC.


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