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In true jazz style, Sidney Kirk III to be honored with final jam session

Jazz keyboardist and legendary pianist, Sidney Kirk III – a major figure in the Isaac Hayes Movement in the early 1970s – will be saluted with a memorial jam session after funeral services on Saturday.

“As an older, more seasoned musician, my father loved staying late after his gigs, just jamming with up-and-coming musicians,” said Cidney Kirk, daughter of the iconic band leader.

“Young musicians learned so much from him because he loved guiding them and helping them to be better. His repast will be one last jam session, something he would have loved so much.”

Kirk said her father, 78, had not really been ill. He was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer two years ago, but doctors “were able to get that under control.”

In December of 2020, Kirk had a stroke. He “never stopped trying to get back where he had been before the stroke,” according to his daughter.

Services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday (Aug. 13) at The Lord’s Tabernacle Holiness Church, 2818 Midland Ave. Immediately following, the Kirk family is inviting the public to join them for a memorial tribute jam session at Partees Place, 5162 Milbranch Rd., in Whitehaven.

“The Memphis Jazz Workshop will honor my father with a cool jam session,” said Cidney Kirk. “Dad would have loved this idea, and I know he will be there in spirit. We are so excited about celebrating his life and love of music in this way.”

A North Memphis native, Kirk, who was a year ahead of Hayes at Manassas High School, regaled classmates with stellar performances at local talent shows. After teaming up with Hayes, the two remained together, playing at venues and eventually forming a group called “The Ambassadors.”

That was the beginning of the magic.

The two friends lost touch when Kirk went to the Air Force. After high school, Hayes began writing and producing for Stax artists such as Carla Thomas and Sam and Dave.

With a brief military stint behind him, Kirk resumed stage performances just as Hayes was finding commercial success at Stax in the late 60s as a solo artist.

The two reunited, collaborating on the iconic productions of the albums “Shaft” and “Black Moses.”

The Isaac Hayes Movement produced masterpiece instrumentations, using a mixture of genres – classical, jazz, R&B – and Kirk was a major figure in it. The sound created a brand of music embraced as “hot-buttered soul.” Their brand of soul was celebrated worldwide during the highly acclaimed 1972 Wattstax concert in Los Angeles.

Popular Memphis songstress, Toni Green, remembers going on the road with Isaac Hayes at the age of 13.

“My mother didn’t want me to go because I was so young, but Sidney promised he would personally take care of me,” said Green. “We met a lot of entertainers and other people in the business, but Sidney was always right there to protect me. I never forgot how kind he was to me.”

After Stax closed, Kirk continued with Hayes on albums produced by ABC through the mid-seventies. He eventually settled in Memphis after years on the road with his own trio.

Kirk was also a fixture at the Memphis Slim House, where he mentored young musicians. Earlier this year, the Memphis Blues Society honored Kirk with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

He is survived by his sister, Fannie Kirk; three daughters: Tracy Walker, Cidney Kirk, and Christian Kirk; and one son, Sidney Kirk IV.

His wife, Virginia Kirk, preceded him in death earlier this year.

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