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Home > Editorials > Op/Ed: Mac and Hayes Influence on Politics

Op/Ed: Mac and Hayes Influence on Politics

Charles Robinson-2
Charles Robinson

(BALTIMORE - August 12, 2008) - Politics and entertainment have unusual intersections. Despite the current fascination with Obama's so-called celebrity status, it's interesting to note the passing of Bernie Mac, comedian, and Issac Hayes, singer songwriter.

Bernie Mac

Mac, who died Friday, August 8, 2008, was a year younger than me. I met "the Mac Man" while covering the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago while working for BET. My crew and I were invited to an afternoon reception at the Du Sable Museum on the South Side. The event was held outdoors. It was filled with a number of Chicago Politicos. Somehow during the event, the host came up to me and suggested I talk with this comedian named Bernie Mac. I was unfamiliar with his talent but felt obligated to talk with him (earlier in the day I'd interviewed Chris Rock who was working for the Comedy Channel, pre-John Stewart).

I'd introduced myself and asked for his take on Bill Clinton, who was making his second run at the White House. Mac, who was wearing his trademark summer white hat, launched into "a bit" he perfected on stage. "You see, Clinton is just like a brother; he plays sax, likes black people and he smokes a little weed." It was just enough for me not to break-up.

As we went back to United Center, I was thinking, "How in the hell I'm gonna use this on the air." Reviewing the tape several times, I came to this simple conclusion: "Mac is saying what many people in the Black community were saying."

So what does this have to do with Black Politics? As far as I can tell, over my lifetime, there are intersections of music, pop culture and entertainment. Some say it's the background noise we don't hear. If you think I'm joking, at the next Obama Rally or John McCain rally listen to the music you hear as they are walking off stage (Obama uses a Stevie Wonder tune and McCain's has "Big and Rich" playing the background). What does it say about who you are? A lot !!!!

The bit was meshed with Rock's take on the political scene in Chicago and I became a fan.

His rise to stardom made an impression on me.

Fast forward to this year. At a recent Barrack Obama event, Bernie Mac showed up to do a few jokes. For the uninitiated, if you give a comedian (especially a Black one) a mike, there may be a few embarrassing moments. This was the case with Mac talking about menopause and several salacious comments (par for today's Black Comedians). There were several boos from the audience. Obama would calm the crowd saying he was just joking (that's what comedians do). Later Obama would issue a press release saying the comments were inappropriate. I'm guessing the good senator would like to take that back right about now.

Issac Hayes

My introduction to Issac Hayes came in the form of the album "Hot, Buttered, Soul". My dad wore the album out. He'd put on "Walk on By" and wouldn't let it stop until he got to the 18 minute version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (the Glenn Campbell pop-hit). The song has a rap in the beginning in which Hayes delivers this searing letter to the woman who cheated on him. I hated the song, especially after my dad played it for an entire month (He always told me this was a classic). Recently, my Brother-In-Law dumped it on a CD and I couldn't get out of the car until it was over.

Most people equated Issac Hayes with the music score to "Shaft"...Rightfully so. The album ushered in a new era of music and strength for urban communities ("You know that cat Shaft is a bad Mother...shut yo mouth...I'm just talkin bout Shaft"). Being hip was having an afro, wearing that leather jacket and taking it to 'the man'. Several politicians across the country were quick to capitalize on this assertion paying dividends in the mid 70's. This included Richard Hatcher in Gary, Indiana; Carl Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio; Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Georgia; and many others.

Black Moses liberated the masses from the "get along to go along" candidates. Hayes' music became the backdrop for their campaigns.

The late 70's through the early 80's became sour point for Hayes' music. With STAX declaring bankruptcy (his record label), the Memphis sound gave way to pulsating disco. As a DJ during this period, I was surprised to find in my mailbox an Issac Hayes album on the Polydor Label called "New Horizon". 

I almost pitched it in the trash, but instead put the needle to the wax. When the song "Moonlight Lovin' (Menage a Trois)" came on, I had to stop. It was lush, and had a pulsating beat which mixed well for my late night show on WVCW-820 am.

Jump ahead to 2000. My wife and I had an opportunity to see Issac Hayes and piano virtuoso Cyrus Chestnut in Baltimore, Maryland. For most people, they were probably thinking it was going to be a "Shaft Revisited" concert. In fact, my wife - who I love dearly, wore an outfit I jokingly called "Ginger from the 'Solid Gold Dancers'." It was hot !!!

When Hayes arrived on stage, he came in an appointed Black Moses type outfit and Chestnut was understated in suit and tie. Hayes plunked on a stool, while Chestnut sat at the piano. That's it. No full orchestra, no wah wah guitars, and no pulsating lights and dancers. It was laid back. He played "Walk on By", "Never Can Say Goodbye", and several other tunes - mostly ballads. It was getting close to the end and I told my my wife if he doesn't play "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" I'll be pissed, and I'm going to guest so would several other patrons. Hayes did not disappoint. The rap was updated, but hit the chord so many of us had long to hear. The voice was clear and to the point (How the hell did that woman cheat on him seven times, and seven times he still went back?).

So what does this have to do with Black Politics? As far as I can tell, over my lifetime, there are intersections of music, pop culture and entertainment. Some say it's the background noise we don't hear. If you think I'm joking, at the next Obama Rally or John McCain rally listen to the music you hear as they are walking off stage (Obama uses a Stevie Wonder tune and McCain's has "Big and Rich" playing the background). What does it say about who you are? A lot !!!!

FYI...The pair (Hayes and Mac) are in a yet to be released movie called "Soul Men." As Sam and Dave would say,"I'm a Soul Man !!!!!"

Tags: bernie mac, isaac hayes, Politics

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