Morris Hayes, an Arkansas musician who has worked with some of the world’s greatest musicians, including Prince, Elton John, Bono and the Edge, Carlos Santana, and the Foo Fighters.
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Morris Kevin Hayes was born on November 28, 1962, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Moses and Maxine Hayes. His mother Maxine was a singer but loved the piano and encouraged Hayes to play. Hayes took keyboard lessons for a few months as a preteen, where his music teacher realized he could play by ear. More interested in sports, he only played the keyboard at church and never learned to read music. Hayes later attended and graduated from White Hall High School where he was the first Bulldog mascot. He also played piano and took art classes. Even back then everyone knew he was extremely talented.
Things changed in college when Hayes went to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on a commercial arts scholarship. While there, he became the main keyboard player for the campus rhythm and blues band Polo after the band’s original keyboard player left. On December 17, 1982, Hayes and his band mates watched Prince and The Time, his backing band, perform in Pine Bluff. Hayes promised himself that one day he would play with The Time and Prince.
Hayes left UAPB for Devry in Chicago but decided to pursue music full time when his old Polo bandmate Greg Sain asked Hayes to join Fingerprints, a cover band based in Memphis. Fingerprints soon disbanded, and Hayes moved to Austin, Texas, where he started a band called The Bizness with another musician. One night as the band played some Prince songs, Mark Brown, bass player for Prince’s backing band, The Revolution, was in the audience. Brown asked The Bizness to travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota, The Revolution’s home base, to record a demo album. Hayes ended up joining Brown’s band Mazarati.
In 1991, Mazarati disbanded, but Hayes stayed in Minneapolis to take advantage of its vibrant music scene. He worked as Brown’s studio assistant, co-writing, producing, and engineering tracks for Shanice Wilson, an emerging artist. Later that year, Hayes got a call from Jerome Benton, a member of The Time. Benton wanted Hayes to become The Time’s keyboard player after Jimmy ‘Jam’ Harris left to found Perspective Records with musical partner Terry Lewis. Hayes jumped at the opportunity, and soon he was touring Asia with the band of his dreams. After the tour ended, Hayes co-founded the band G Sharp and The Edge, which became the house band for Prince’s new night club Glam Slam in Minneapolis. Prince was so impressed by the band’s performance that he signed to play alongside Carmen Elecktra as the opening act of his 1992 “Diamonds and Pearls'' tour.
Hayes performed well enough that after the tour Prince asked him to join his band the New Power Generation. Hayes played with them for the next ten years. In 2003, he left to play alongside renowned saxophonist Maceo Parker. In 2005, he rejoined the New Power Generation as the band leader. Hayes has the longest history with Prince of any New Power Generation band member, having played with him for more than 20 years. Dubbed “Mr. Hayes” by Prince, Hayes spent several years as Prince’s musical director, collaborating with him as he produced some of his most popular songs and albums. Hayes even performed with Prince during the 2007 Super Bowl half-time show, still remembered as one of the best half-time shows by magazines like Rolling Stone and Billboard.
Working with Prince is not Hayes's only claim to fame, though. He has worked with many musical superstars, ranging across all genres, from pop to funk to rock and R&B. Some of those artists include Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Herbie Hancock, H.E.R., Elton John, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters, Bono and the Edge, John Legend, Teddy Riley, Carlos Santana, and Earth, Wind & Fire. Hayes has produced songs for television and film, including Martin Lawrence’s You So Crazy, According to Matthew, and Laurel Avenue on HBO. After Prince died in 2016, Hayes served as the musical director for the official Prince Tribute Concert in St. Paul, Minnesota, in October of that year. He has performed at blues and jazz festivals around the world with the original members of the New Power Generation, who reunited after Prince’s death. Hayes was also inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2013.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard